Category: growing

Growing Cilantro

cilantro_closeup_tnCilantro needs its own space in the garden where you can harvest it and then let it go to seed. It grows fast in the cool weather of spring and fall, creating a rosette of lacy leaves. When the weather gets warm, the plant sends up a long, lanky flower stalk bearing flat umbels of white or pinkish blossoms which later produce coriander seeds. Plant cilantro in a bed devoted to herbs where it can reseed, or in a corner of the vegetable garden.

In mild climates, cilantro makes a handsome winter companion to pansies. Leaves withstand a light frost.

Soil, Planting, and Care

It is best to dedicate a patch of garden to cilantro since it self-sows. Seeds germinate in about 7 to 10 days.

Cilantro is best grown by directly sowing seed in the garden for two reasons. It grows so quickly it needs no head start indoors, and since cilantro develops a taproot, it doesn’t like being transplanted.

South

Grow cilantro in full sun and well-drained soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8; it will tolerate light shade in the South and Southwest where the sun is intense. In the South and Southwest, plant 12 to 18 inches apart in the fall or the spring about a month before the last frost. Fall is the ideal time to plant in zones 8, 9, and 10 because the plants will last through until the weather heats up in late spring. When plants begin to bloom, the foliage becomes scarce; for steady harvest, set out plants every 3 to 4 weeks until the weather gets warm in spring, or until the first frost of fall.

North of the border
Cilantro is productive for only about 6 weeks in cooler climes, so here are some tips on dealing with cilantro’s persnickety nature.
• Dedicate a small patch of garden to cilantro.
• Direct sow plants every 2 to 3 weeks, starting about 2 weeks before the last frost date (around May 15).
• Once the plants bolt, allow them to go to seed. (Cilantro bolts when temperatures climb above 75°F for a few consecutive days.)
• Retain the patch so self-sown plants will come up in the spring.

Application of compost around the base of the plant adds nutrients, helps retain water, and keeps the roots cool.

Cilantro frequently self sows. As seeds fall to the ground, little plants often come up during the season and the following spring.

CULTIVATION

Prepare soil by adding some compost or other organic matter to the planting area and working it into the soil to a depth of at least 18 inches. Rake the area smooth. Sow cilantro seeds 1/4-inch deep directly in the garden in late spring or early summer. Sow seeds or thin to 6 to 8 inches apart in rows spaced about 1 foot apart. Provide plenty of moisture and feed cilantro plants with a water-soluble fertilizer when they reach about 2 inches in height.

Since cilantro grows so quickly, it can also be sown again in the fall in warmer zones. For a steady supply of fresh leaves all summer, make successive sowings of cilantro seed every 2 to 3 weeks beginning in the spring.

Cilantro Harvest Tips
Cutting cilantro near bottom of stems

For Cilantro

Harvest cilantro by cutting the leafy stems near ground level. Cut only about one-third of the plant at a time. The leaves can be cut at any time. Use the upper, new, finely cut leaves in cooking, but not the mature, lower ferny-type leaves. Cilantro is not normally saved and dried like other culinary herbs since, as stated, it loses almost its entire flavor when dried. Harvest cilantro by cutting the leafy stems near ground level. Cut only about one-third of the plant at a time.

For Coriander
The large coriander seeds are easy to harvest and handle. Harvest on a dry day. Cut the top of the stems when the seedpods begin to turn brown and crack if pressed. Make sure pods are harvested before they release seeds into the garden. Once stems are cut, place seedpods in a paper bag so seeds will be caught. Finish the ripening process for a few weeks in a dark, well-ventilated, cool place. Pods can be shaken or rolled around in your hands to release the seeds. Harvest the seeds by clipping the brown, round seed heads; place upside down in a paper bag. In a few days, the round husks will dry and split in two, dropping the edible seed inside. Don’t delay seed harvest, or the weak stems will fall over.

If you’re growing the plant for seed, don’t bother fertilizing since that may delay flowering and thus seed production.

Troubleshooting

 

Field of white cilantro flowersCilantro will grow tall and wispy as it starts to bloom. The white flowers later produce the seeds we all know as coriander.

Cilantro occasionally has problems with aphids and whitefly, wilt, or mildew. For the insects, use insecticidal soap. To prevent or control wilt and mildew, make sure you clean up spent cilantro plants at the end of the season, and remove any infected plants as soon as possible.

One of the surprises that most gardeners get from cilantro is that it moves through its life cycle so quickly, especially in spring. If you are lucky enough to live in a mild winter climate, fall and winter give you the longest season to harvest. Once you understand this fast little plant, it’s easy to manage. Give it its own patch in the garden where you can harvest, then ignore, then harvest again. Harvest while it’s low, let it get tall when it wants to, then cut off the tall plants after the seeds drop to get it out of the way. This makes room for the new plants that start themselves from the fallen seeds. Or, of course, you can set out new plants every 3 to 4 weeks for as long as we have them in the stores, but the harvest and ignore technique will get you through the in-between times.

You can harvest cilantro’s foliage continually in the cooler months of spring and fall and through winter in areas without hard freezes. Harvest by cutting the leafy stems near ground level; most will be around 6 to 12 inches long. Avoid cutting more than one-third of the leaves at one time, or you may weaken the plant. Fertilize with Herb & Vegetable Plant Food or fish emulsion after 4 or 5 harvests.

Since we are taking leaves often frequent fertilization is a must to keep the leaves coming

it will start to yellow if it is not fertilized regularly. Keeping it fertilized means more leaves for us to harvest….more salsa at my house. Cilantro leaves may also fade from that dark green color when it is grown in soggy soils.

Uses

 

Growing cilantro adds a lot of healthy, fresh flavor to your kitchen. Freshly chopped cilantro is an excellent source of potassium, is low in calories, and is good for the digestive system. It is best to use fresh cilantro in cooking since it loses its flavor when dried. Add chopped leaves at the last minute for maximum flavor. Cilantro blends well with mint, cumin, chives, garlic, and marjoram. Store by freezing the leaves in cubes of water or oil; you can dry them, too, but they lose a lot of their flavor this way, which explains why growing your own is far better than buying it from the spice rack.

Store coriander seeds in a cool cabinet or the refrigerator. Use them in curry, poultry, relishes, and pickles.

Q&A

My cilantro is tall and lanky with few leaves.

It sounds like your cilantro has started to bloom. Once the weather begins to get warm in late spring or early summer, cilantro will transition from a round, leafy plant with parsley-like foliage into a taller, lacy-leaved plant with white flowers in clusters at the top. In a few weeks, you’ll see round seeds forming. When harvested, these can be ground into coriander. If you leave them to mature, plants will fall to the ground and sprout again in the fall or early spring. While your plant will die after flowering, its offspring will take over, giving you a seasonal supply of flavorful foliage. Without adequate lighting though, expect the cilantro to grow ‘leggy’ or spindly.

Year round cilantro?

Cilantro is a biennial, which means it grows leaves the first season, and then it flowers and dies the second. Set out plants in early fall for optimum growth. They will develop into round, leafy plants that look a lot like flat-leaved parsley, but the flavor is distinctly different. If the winter is mild, you’ll have cilantro for months. Then in spring you will notice the plant growing taller and the leaves changing to a very lacy form. There will be white flowers on top, and after the seeds ripen, the plant will die. Seeds that fall to the ground in summer will germinate in fall, so the cycle begins again.To have a supply of cilantro in summer, you’ll need to preserve it. Drying is not the best for cilantro. Instead, chop or puree the fresh leaves with olive oil. Store this in a heavy plastic container or freezer bag in the freezer for later use.

Filed under: growing

Growing Zucchini

Summary

  • direct sow two or three seeds, 1″ deep on small hill, 3 feet apart, when no chance of frost
  • needs plenty of sun
  • use compost mulch. keep 2 inches from plant base
  • harvest fruit when 6 to 8 inches long
  • use pruning shears to cut fruit when harvesting
  • keep base of plant cleared of debris
  • check once a week, under leaves, for squash bug eggs
  • prolonged rainy weather or hot weather may produce less fruit (less bee activity)
  • marigolds attract bees

Summer Squash

Summer squashSummer squash (also known as vegetable or Italian marrow), is a  tender, warm-season vegetable that can be grown throughout  the United States anytime during the warm, frost-free season.  Summer squash differs from fall and winter squash in that it  is selected to be harvested before the rind hardens and the  fruit matures. It grows on bush-type plants that do not spread like the plants of fall and winter squash and pumpkin. A few healthy and well-maintained plants produce abundant yields.

Recommended Varieties

Summer squash appears in many different fruit shapes and colors:

Scallop or Patty Pan is round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges, usually white but sometimes yellow or green.

Constricted neck is thinner at the  stem end than the blossom end, classified as either “crookneck” or “straightneck” depending on if the stem end is straight or bent, and is usually yellow.

Cylindrical to club-shaped Italian marrows, such as zucchini, cocozelle and caserta, are usually shades of  green, but may be yellow or nearly white.

The varietal selection of summer squash has markedly changed in recent years and the number of varieties offered has greatly expanded as the result of new interest, hybridization and  introduction of disease resistance. The number of varieties is  staggering. Recommended varieties of summer squash include:

Zucchini (Open Pollinated)

Black Zucchini (best known summer  squash; greenish black skin, white flesh)

Black Beauty (slender, with slight  ridges, dark black-green)

Cocozelle (dark green overlaid  with light green stripes; long, very slender fruit)

Vegetable Marrow White Bush (creamy  greenish color, oblong shape)

Zucchini (hybrid)

Aristocrat (All America Selection  winner; waxy; medium green)

Chefini (AAS winner; glossy, medium dark green)

Classic (medium green; compact, open  bush)

Elite (medium green; lustrous sheen; extra early; open plant)

Embassy (medium green, few spines, high yield)

President (dark green, light green  flecks; upright plant)

Spineless Beauty (medium dark green; spineless petioles)

Golden Zucchini (hybrid)

Gold Rush (AAS winner, deep gold  color, superior fruit quality, a zucchini not a straightneck)

Yellow Crookneck

Early Yellow Summer Crookneck (classic open-pollinated crookneck; curved neck; warted; heavy yields)

Sundance (hybrid; early; bright  yellow, smooth skin)

Yellow Straightneck

Early Prolific Straightneck (standard  open-pollinated straightneck, light cream color, attractive straight fruit)

Goldbar (hybrid; golden yellow; upright, open plant)

Scallop

White Bush Scallop (old favorite Patty  Pan type, very pale green when immature, very tender)

Peter Pan (hybrid, AAS winner, light  green)

Scallopini (hybrid, AAS winner)

Sunburst (hybrid, bright yellow, green spot at the blossom end)

Other

Butter Blossom (an open-pollinated  variety selected for its large, firm male blossoms; fruit may be  harvested like summer squash, but remove female blossoms for  largest supply of male blossoms)

Gourmet Globe (hybrid; globe-shaped; dark green, with light stripes; delicious)

Sun Drops (hybrid, creamy yellow, unique oval shape, may be harvested as baby with blossoms attached).

When to Plant

Plant anytime after the danger of frost has passed, from early  spring until midsummer. Some gardeners have two main plantings – one for early summer harvest and another for late summer and fall  harvest.

Direct-seeding is the preferred method for starting squash. Use a soil thermometer and sow seeds after the last frost date, once soil has warmed to 70° F at the 2-inch depth.

Spacing & Depth

Starting from Seed

Soak the zucchini seeds that you are going to plant in some clean, warm water  for eight hours.

Sow two or three seeds 24 to 36 inches apart for single-plant  production, or four or five seeds in hills 48 inches apart. Cover one inch deep then water. I like to water the seeds for the next three days, unless there is rain. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin to one  vigorous plant or no more than two or three plants per hill.

Planting the Seeds

Zucchini seeds can be planted in a large container with more than one seed.  Or you can use individual, smaller containers. The container is filled with your  homemade dirt or you can purchase some potting soil at the garden center of your  local home improvement store. The seeds need to be placed about an inch from the  top of the soil and covered.

Water the soil generously the first day and then every few days after. The  container should have holes in the bottom and be set in a water catch. Zucchini  likes well-drained soil, but it will tolerate a damp soil especially when it is  young. The plants also like a lot of sun, so make sure to set them in a sunny  window or an enclosed porch. After your plants have germinated and you have some leaves beginning, you can plant it outdoors, weather permitting. If the plants  are in a large enough container, they can actually stay in these and grow to  full size. They should be fully grown and ready to pick in 45 to 50 days. You  can leave them longer and grow larger zucchini but they are tougher and not as  tasty.

Care

Any well-drained garden soil produces excellent yields of summer squash. Certain mulches increase earliness and yields, because the roots are shallow. Keep mulch 1 to 2 inches from plant base. Use 2 inches of fine mulch.

Harvesting

Because summer squash develop very rapidly after pollination, they are often picked when they are too large and overmature. They  should be harvested when small and tender for best quality.  Most elongated varieties are picked when they are 2 inches or  less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long. Patty Pan types are  harvested when they are 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Slightly  larger fruit may be salvaged by hollowing out and using them  for stuffing. These larger fruits may also be grated for baking in  breads and other items. Do not allow summer squash to become  large, hard and seedy because they sap strength from the plant  that could better be used to produce more young fruit. Pick  oversized squash with developed seeds and hard skin and throw  them away. Go over the plants every 1 or 2 days. Squash grow  rapidly; especially in hot weather and are usually ready to  pick within 4 to 8 days after flowering.

Although summer squash has both male and female flowers, only the female flowers produce fruits. Because the fruits are harvested when still immature, they bruise and scratch easily. Handle  with care and use immediately after picking. Be careful when  picking summer squash, as the leafstalks and stems are prickly  and can scratch and irritate unprotected hands and arms. Use a  sharp knife or pruning shears to harvest and wear gloves if  possible. Some gardeners also pick the open male and female  blossoms before the fruits develop. Especially the female blossoms, with tiny fruit attached, are a delicacy when dipped in a batter  and fried.

Common Problems

Cucumber beetles attack seedlings, vines and both  immature and mature fruits. They can be controlled with a  suggested insecticide applied weekly either as a spray or  dust. Be alert for an infestation of cucumber beetles in  early September because these beetles can damage the mature fruits.

Squash bugs attack vines as the fruit begin to set  and increase in numbers through the late summer, when they  can be quite damaging to maturing fruit. They hatch and  travel in groups, which seem to travel in herds until they  reach maturity. Using the proper insecticide when the numbers of this pest are still small minimizes damage. The eggs congregate under the leaves in neat rows, usually starting in June.

Lack of Fruit

All squash plants are monoecious, which means there are separate male and female flowers on the same plant. A less common reason for zucchini fruit falling off a plant is blossom end rot. The tell tale signs of this are blacked ends on the stunted fruit. Blossom end rot is caused by lack of calcium in the soil.

Male Blooms

Unlike other common vegetables such as beans and peas, zucchini produces both male and female blossoms. Because the male blossoms appear first to attract bees, your zucchini plants may produce blooms for a week or more that do not set fruit. The male bloom contains the pollen necessary to pollinate the female blooms, but does not produce fruit on its own. Male blooms appear on a long slender stem. To ensure there is always plenty of pollen available, the plants produce many more male flowers than females.

Female Blooms

Female blooms appear several days to a week or more after the male blooms. These blooms contain a swollen ovary at the base of the bloom that looks like a miniature zucchini. These blooms must be pollinated before the young fruit can grow.

Pollination

Bees visit the male bloom where pollen sticks to their bodies. When they visit the female blooms, the sticky anthem inside the blossom attracts the pollen. When the pollen is deposited in the female bloom, the young fruit swells and begins to grow. If the female bloom is not pollinated, the flower shrivels and the tiny fruit drops from the vine.

Lack of Pollination

Sometimes, a lack of pollination occurs and the zucchini plant fails to produce fruit. This can occur for several reasons. Lack of bees due to environmental factors such as the use of pesticides that has killed beneficial insects, prolonged rainy weather, which reduces bee activity, or high temperatures which also inhibit bee activity and cause pollen to degrade. All contribute to lack of pollination. Humid and rainy weather causes pollen to clump.

Solutions

Hand pollinating your zucchini plants may be your only solution other than adding a beehive to your garden. Using a wet paintbrush to collect pollen from the male blooms and depositing it into the female bloom works well and typically solves the issue. Zucchini flowers tend to open up wide in the morning and are often closed by the afternoon so it is important to hand pollinate in the morning.

Questions & Answers

Q. Will summer squash cross with winter squash?

A. Summer squash varieties can cross with one another, with  acorn squash and with jack-o’-lantern pumpkins.  Cross-pollination is not evident in the current crop, but the seed should not be sown for the following year. Summer squash does not cross with melons or cucumbers.

Selection

Most people harvest summer squash too late. Like winter squash,  summer squash is an edible gourd. Unlike winter squash, it  is harvested at the immature stage. Ideally, summer squash  should be harvested at 6 to 8 inches in length. Pattypan and  scallopini are ready when they measure about 3 to 4 inches  in diameter or less. Tiny baby squash are delicious too.  Large rock-hard squashes serve a better purpose on the compost heap than in the kitchen.

Cut the squash from the vine using a sharp knife or pruning shears to avoid damaging the plant. Summer squash vines are very  prolific, the more harvest the greater the yield. The most  important characteristic to remember is that summer squash  is best when immature, young and tender.

In this section, summer squash varieties will be limited to zucchini, yellow squash (crooked and straight), pattypan which is  also call scalloped and scallopini. Because summer squash is  immature, the skin is very thin and susceptible to damage.  Handle with care. The average family only needs to plant one  or two of each variety. Over planting usually leads to  hoards of huge inedible fruit and/or scouring the neighborhood for people to take the surplus.

Storage

To store summer squash, harvest small squash and place, unwashed in plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Wash the squash just before preparation. As with most vegetables,  water droplets promote decay during storage. The storage life of summer squash is brief, so use within two to three days.

Squash Blossoms

Squash blossoms are edible flowers, raw or cooked. Both summer and  winter squash blossoms can be battered and fried in a little  oil for a wonderful taste sensation. Harvest only the male  blossoms unless the goal is to reduce production. Male  blossoms are easily distinguished from the female blossoms.  The stem of the male blossom is thin and trim.   The stem of  the female blossom is very thick. At the base of the female  flower below the petals is a small bulge, which is the developing  squash.

Always leave a few male blossoms on the vine for pollination  purposes. There are always many more male flowers than  female. Harvest only the male squash blossoms unless you are  trying to reduce production. The female blossom can be harvested with a tiny squash growing at the end and used in  recipes along with full blossoms. Use the blossom of any  variety of summer or winter squash in your favorite squash blossom recipe.

Use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut squash blossoms at midday when the petals are open, leaving one inch of stem. Gently  rinse in a pan of cool water and store in ice water in the  refrigerator until ready to use. The flowers can be stored  for a few hours or up to 1 or 2 days. If you’ve never eaten  squash blossoms, you are in for a treat. A recipe for Stuffed  Squash Blossoms is in the recipe portion of this  section.

Nutritional Value

Because summer squash is immature, they are considerably lower in nutritional value than their winter counterparts. Generally,  there is little variation in nutritional value between  varieties. The peel is where many of the nutrients hide, so  never peel summer squash.

Preparation & Serving

Summer squash can be grilled, steamed, boiled, sauteed, fried or used in stir fry recipes. They mix well with onions, tomatoes and okra in vegetable medleys. Summer squash can be used  interchangeably in most recipes. Tinybaby  squash can be used as appetizers, or left whole and sauteed  with other vegetables.

Don’t waste male squash blossoms by leaving them in the garden. If you do not have the time or inclination to prepare them  separately, toss them in the salad bowl or add to any squash preparation.

Cooking Seeds

Cooking summer squash seeds, like pumpkin seeds, are delicious.

Home Preservation

Canning is not recommended because the tender summer squash will  simply turn to mush during processing, unless you are making  pickles. Zucchini can be substituted for cucumbers in some  pickle recipes. The results are especially good in your  favorite recipes for Bread and Butter Pickles.

Blanch and freeze cubes or slices of summer squash or grate and  freeze Zucchini, unblanched for making Zucchini bread. The  best way to use over grown (10 to 12 inches) zucchini is to  grate it and use in zucchini bread. Cut the squash in half  lengthwise and cut away the seedy middle section. Wash,  grate and freeze in one cup portions. Use zip closure  freezer bags or rigid freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch head space. Over size zucchini can also be used to make canned zucchini chutney.  The over 12-inch monsters should go on the compost  heap.

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Filed under: growing

Growing German Chamomile

Single chamomile flowerChamomile is an annual. Chamomile is a member of the ragweed family, so it’s not recommended for anyone with moderate to severe ragweed allergies. An erect annual (Matricaria recutita), German Chamomile seeds are one of the few seeds that need light to germinate,

Also spelled Camomile, this herb is a native of Europe, and was brought by early settlers to North America.

Two main types of chamomile exist: German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile. The first is an annual that grows to about 2-3 feet, while the second is a perennial that grows to be about 4-12 inches. Both varieties of chamomile reseed themselves, so you don’t need to plant too often.

PLANT TYPE: Perennial (Chamaemelum nobile), Annual (Matricaria recutita)
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Perennial (Chamaemelum nobile), Annual (Matricaria recutita)
ZONE / HARDINESS: 3 to 5 for perennial
MATURE PLANT SIZE: 9 inches high x varied width due to spreading
LIGHT: N/A
FLOWERING PERIOD: June to August
SOIL TYPE: Light, dry soil
pH RANGE: 7.0
KNOWN PESTS: None
KNOWN DISEASES: None

Water Requirements

Water on a regular schedule, taking care to not overwater.

Potential Pests & Diseases
Aphids, mealybug. Minimal disease issues.

Special Notes
Chamomile may be considered a noxious weed or invasive plant in some areas. Chamomile is known to attract bees, butterflies or birds and has fragrant blossoms. Chamomile self-sows freely; remove flowers (deadhead) if you do not want volunteer seedlings the following season.

Growing German Chamomile

Growing Cultures
Outdoors, containers, landscaping, mass plantings. German chamomile not recommended for containers.

Plant Height
Chamomile grows to a height of 20 to 30 inches (50 – 70cm).

Plant Spacing

Chamomile plants should be spaced 6 inches (15 cm) apart.

Preferred pH Range
Chamomile will grow in a relatively wide pH range between 5.6 (acidic) and 7.5 (neutral).

Propagation
From seed. Direct sow in spring or fall. Fall sown seeds germinate following spring. Seeds need light to germinate.

Seed Germination Period
7 to 14 days.

Seeds Per Gram (Approximate)
10,000 to 18.000.

Soil Requirements
Well drained, poor to average soil.

Alternative Growing Media
Soilless potting mixes, perlite, vermiculite, rockwool, coco peat, Oasis foam.

Time From Seed to Saleable Plant
Seeds to finished plugs, 6 weeks; plugs to saleable plants, 6 to 6 weeks.

Sun & Lighting Requirements
Chamomile grown outdoors prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade.

Growing Chamomile

Buy healthy, green plants with no signs of wilting or disease. Plants should be stocky with plenty of leaves. It’s actually a plus if they don’t have any flowers – they’ll divert their early energy into root development rather than flowering.

It also needs light to germinate. Scatter the seed on top of the potting soil and press down.

Choose a site in full sun with average to rich, well-drained soil.

Plant seedlings in spring or mid fall, spacing them 6 inches apart for a carpetlike ground cover effect, or 18 inches apart in herb and flower gardens.

Keep soil evenly moist. Mulching is a good idea.

Trim faded flowers or shear the plant occasionally to promote new blooms.

Fertilize every four to six weeks, or work in a slow-release fertilizer at planting time.

Tear out faded annual types of chamomile at the end of the season, once frost fells them. Cut back perennial types to just 2 or 3 inches.

Chamomile comes in both annual (grows just once a year) and perennial (returns year after year) types. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is the annual type; Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is the perennial type.

Growing just 3 to 9 inches high, chamomile spreads about 24 inches, making it useful as a ground cover as well. It covers itself from early to mid summer in pretty yellow and white flowers, which can be made into chamomile tea – reputed to soothe upset stomachs and digestive systems as well as calm the nerves.

Chamomile also likes its soil moist but not wet and does well between pavers and stepping-stones.

Chamomile performs well where temperatures in summer do not regularly reach 100 degrees F.

I have German chamomile and beware. It grows and spreads like a weed. The seeds even spread into your lawn and start growing. Still a gorgeous herb.

Chamomile tea has a subtle herbal taste and is famously used as a sleep aid and to calm upset stomachs. Two types of chamomile are commonly planted in herb gardens: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), a robust annual that grows to about 2 feet tall and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), a petite perennial. When growing chamomile for tea, use German Chamomile which produces an abundance of apple scented, daisy-like flowers. Here is how to prepare it.

Plant German chamomile seedlings outdoors in spring after all danger of frost has passed in a spot with full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. One plant will produce about 3 to 6 cups of flowers (when dried), so plant accordingly. Seedlings are commonly available in spring at well-stocked nurseries or you can see Resources below for a mail order source of seedlings.

The plant typically begins to bloom in mid-summer and continues blooming into fall. Pinch off the blossoms the day they open. These young flowers not only have the best flavor, by removing them you also encourage the plant to bloom more. Get in the habit of checking for new blooms once a day and harvesting them. From my experience, 2 cups of fresh blooms dry down to about ¼ cup.

Immediately after harvest, bring the blossoms indoors and spread them out in a single layer on craft paper. Dry the blossoms in a spot that is indoors, warm and out of direct sunlight.

Allow the blossoms to fully dry (they should crumble easily when rubbed between your fingers). When dry, place them in a glass jar with a lid or in a brown paper bag. Store the chamomile in a dark, cool spot for up to one year.

To prepare tea, pour 8 oz. of boiling water over 2 tbsp. of dried chamomile blossoms. Allow the blossoms to steep for 4 to 5 minutes, then strain the tea into a tea cup. Add honey and a thin slice of lemon, if you like.

Chamomile readily self-seeds, so you will most likely only need to purchase seedlings once!

Harvesting Chamomile

Plan on harvesting chamomile in the morning sunlight after all the dew is gone. The plant should be completely dry! The flower part, petals and all, is what you are after. Flowers tend to open up in the morning and will close up when the sun begins to go down.

Shake the plant gently to remove any pests or debris.

There are two ways you can do this and each has it’s benefits:

(1) Pinch the flowers off at the stem or cut with gardening shears just below the flower head. Pinching the flowers will allow regrowth of the plant pretty quickly. Use this method if you want a continual harvest. Cutting only the flowers will require using a drying screen.

(2) Cut the stems with the flowers attached about 2-3 inches down the stem. Cutting the stems will take longer for the plant to rejuvenate, but you will be able to dry the chamomile by hanging it up in bunches with twine.

Either way, once you have the harvest, find a very warm area in your house or garage. Closets make a good choice. Make sure there is no moisture present and keep the chamomile out of sunlight. Any herb will turn moldy if these conditions are present. Dry, dark and hot is what you want. Check on the drying process frequently.

Once dried, if you chose to dry the herb by hanging it by the stem, now is the time to remove the flower only. Toss the stem. Place the chamomile in airtight dry glass containers and keep out of sunlight. It is best not to break apart the flower head until you are ready to use it. Keep as much of it intact as possible.

Filed under: growing

Growing Potatoes

Garden potatoes on the vineGrowing potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) have been easy to do in the DDC garden. My favorite is Yukon Gold which I have a lot planted this year (2007). Others we have grown successfully in the past are Red Pontiac and the white Kennebec.

Potato Location

Do not grow potatoes in the same location until 3 years have passed. Disease and bugs persist and need this long to die off.

Temperature

Potatoes are a cool season vegetable. They grow best in soil that is between 60 and 70 degrees. They will not form when the soil is 80 degrees or higher.

Varieties

There are literally over a hundred varieties of potatoes in a multitude of colors. As mentioned before we have had very good luck with Yukon Gold, Kennebec, and Red Pontiac. Another variety I have seen at the stores is Viking which is a red skinned potato.

Choosing Seed Potatoes

Use seed potatoes, not ones from the grocery store. Grocery store potatoes have been sprayed to prevent the eyes from sprouting. Good seed potatoes are chemical and disease-free.

Planting

Potatoes are among the first crops planted in the spring. I usually plant them the mid April or when the soil is workable. Planting too early may result in rot if the ground stays wet. Cut the seed potatoes in quarters and make sure there is at least one eye in the quarter. Once cut let them sit for a day or two so a crust develops over the cut part. This reduces the chance of rotting. The eye(s) will become the stem so it needs to be planted facing up. There should only be one or two eyes on the cut potato. Full sun is the best for potatoes. Potatoes mature 90 to 120 days after planting, depending on the variety.

Spacing

I have always used seed potatoes rather than ones left over from the year before (though many farmers practice this). The seed potato is cut up in pieces where each piece has at least one “eye”. Each piece is planted about 12 inches apart in a trench about 3 inches deep. I use a hand plow to dig the trench. Each row is 2 feet apart. Placing straw about 4 inches thick or mulch in between the rows help keep moisture in and lower the ground temperature by 10 degrees.

Watering

Yukon Gold have low drought tolerance so keep an eye on them. The soil should be well-drained and fertile. Compacted soil or clay soil will produce misshapen tubers. Keep the potatoes evenly watered so they do not get knobs (secondary growth). Water early in the day and try not to water the foliage.

Fertilizer

After the plant has grown several inches, mound soil around the plant so the potatoes do not turn green from sunlight. After the plant is about a foot high, side-dress the potatoes with 10-10-10 fertilizer about 6 inches from the plant lightly scratched into the ground.

Harvesting

potato fork, 4 tinesNormally potatoes are harvested after the vines die but if you want new potatoes (small, 1 to 2 inches in diameter) harvest them two or three weeks after the potato flowers. Since potatoes are about 8 inches underground I use a potato fork. Normal yield is about eight potatoes per vine. Late potatoes are harvested around August or early September. Two to three weeks before harvesting, cut the potato plants to ground level. This gives the potato skins time to toughen which makes for better storage.

Storage

Most potatoes can be stored in a cool (40 to 50 degrees), dark place (not the refrigerator since the starches will be converted to sugars and give the potato an oddly sweet taste.) for several weeks. Yukon Gold do not store as well as others. If parts of the potato turn green just remove the green part and eat away. Potatoes do not freeze or can well. Do not wash potatoes until they are ready to use. Washing them shortens their storage span.

Recipes

Here are some excellent ways of serving potatoes. They go over big every time. Garlic Red Potatoes and Herb-Roasted Potatoes

Filed under: growing

Growing Cucumbers

Instructions

Cucumbers  do not like their root system disturbed, so if you decide to start them indoors, use a peat pot so they can be directly transplanted.

Planting Cucumbers

Cucumbers can grow as a vine or as a bush. Growing as a vine on a trellis keeps the fruit clean.

Purchase some cucumber seeds according to what you intend to use them for. Cucumber varieties are divided into pickling, slicing, burpless and space-saver variety categories. Burpless cucumbers, both American and Asian types, contain low or no cucurbitacin, the compound that causes bitterness and increases one’s susceptibility to ‘burping’ after eating the fruits.

Decide if you want to give your cucumbers a head start by germinating them indoors (in peat pots, planting cells or pots) or waiting until there is absolutely no chance of frost left (2 weeks after last frost), and planting them right out into your vegetable garden.

Choose where in your garden is best suited for growing cucumbers. Cucumbers require full sun and plenty of warmth to grow. They also require soil that is quick draining; cucumbers do not tolerate having soggy roots.

To plant directly in the ground, prepare the area you want to plant your cucumber seeds. Turn the area over with a shovel and work in fertilizer at approximately one pound per 100 square feet. Use your rake to level and smooth the area.

Make a hill before planting the cucumber. Just a small rise in the ground is adequate. Build the hill, or mound, about a foot in diameter and about three inches high; this is to drain water from around the stem. Plant the cucumber in the mound.

With your trowel, dig 1-inch deep holes that are six to eight inches apart. Each row should be spaced at approximately three feet apart. Place two to three seeds in each hole and cover the hole up firmly with dirt. Now is a good time to use garden stakes so that you know exactly where you planted your seeds.

Check the seeds every day, keep the seeds moist, not drenched. Once your cucumber seedlings get to be approximately three to four inches tall, thin them out so that only one plant remains in each planted area.

Continue to keep your cucumbers well watered. The National Gardening Association recommends keeping the soil evenly moist to prevent cucumbers from becoming bitter. Try not to get moisture on the leaves which will help prevent leaf-related diseases.

The National Gardening Association also suggests that when your cucumbers reach about four weeks of age, to fertilize them with a 5-10-10 fertilizer (5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus and 10% potassium).

In approximately 55 to 65 days, your cucumbers should be ready for harvesting.

Planting in Pots

Start cucumbers inside 2 to 3 weeks before bringing outside. It is best to use peat pots so they do not have to be replanted as cukes do not like having their root system disturbed.

Fill up each peat pot, or planting cells, three-quarters full with seed starting mix. Water each thoroughly, making sure you have a tray underneath to catch the excess water.

Place two to three seeds into each planting receptacle, cover with one inch of the seed starting mix. It’s imperative to maintain an adequate amount of light for your cucumber seeds to germinate. They should receive 12 to 14 hours of sunshine a day. Temperature should be kept above 55 degree F.

Check the seeds daily, keep them moist by spritzing with water as soon as the soil dries out. After the seeds have sprouted, it’s recommended you thin them down to only one cucumber seedling per planting receptacle. When seedlings achieve about three inches in height, you can plant them out of doors right into your vegetable garden.

Transplanting Outdoors

With your trowel, dig holes that are double the size of each of your planting receptacles.

Do not need to remove the seedlings from the peat pots. To remove your cucumbers from pots, support the base of the plant with two fingers, turn upside down and gently tap the edge of the pot with your trowel until the pot begin to slide off. To remove from cells, simply push up from the bottom. Put the cells/pots aside.

Position your cucumber plant in a hole, make sure to line up the base of the plant level with the ground. While holding the cucumber in the hole, use your trowel and fill in the hole with plenty of dirt. Firm the soil with your hand, to remove air pockets.

Water each of your cucumber seedlings carefully, don’t saturate them, but water at the base of the plant and let the water soak in thoroughly. (Proceed from Step 7 above, in the section titled Planting Cucumbers).

Tips

Add cukes as succession plantings. Because cucumbers crave heat, they can follow cool spring crops of peas, spinach, and lettuce.

Provide steady moisture. A continuous water supply is necessary for the best quality fruits. A drip irrigation system is ideal in the cucumber patch. If this is not possible, water deeply once a week, applying at least one inch of water. Frequent but shallow watering will reduce overall yields.

Feed cucumbers well. Cucumbers, like other cucurbits (squash, melons, and pumpkins), are heavy feeders. If organic matter was incorporated into the soil prior to planting, fertilizer will not be needed early in the season. However, when the cucumber plants begin to blossom and set fruit, a side dressing of balanced soluble fertilizer will help keep the plants in production.

Use mulch to regulate the ground temperature.

Make sure that you see both male and female blooms. Male blooms usually appear first and then drop off, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. Within a week or two, female flowers will also appear; each one has a small cucumber-shaped swelling at the base that will become a cucumber.

Several pests bother cucumbers. Squash bugs may attack seedlings. Slugs like ripening fruit. Aphids can colonize leaves and buds. Straw mulch helps keep slugs at bay, as can trellising vines to get the fruit off the ground. Vines are also bothered by cucumber beetles, which chew holes in leaves and flowers and scar stems and fruits, but worse than that, they spread a disease that causes the plants to wilt and die. Powdery mildew is a disease that leaves white, mildew-like patches on the leaves. Apply fungicides at the first sign of its presence. To minimize disease spread, avoid harvesting or handling vines when leaves are wet.

You can pick cucumbers whenever they’re big enough to use. Check vines daily as the fruit starts to appear because they enlarge quickly. Vines produce more fruit the more you harvest. To remove the fruit, use a knife or clippers, cutting the stem above the fruit. Pulling them may damage the vine. Don’t let the cucumbers get oversized or they will be bitter, and will also keep the vine from producing more. Yellowing at the bottom (blossom end) of a cucumber signals overripeness; remove the fruit immediately. Harvest lemon cucumbers just before they begin turning yellow. Although they are called lemon cucumber because the little oblong or round fruits turn yellow and look like a lemon, by the time the fruit turns yellow it may be a little too seedy for most tastes.

You can keep harvested cucumbers in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days, but use them as soon as possible after picking for best flaor. If you don’t eat a slicing cucumber all at once, cover the unused portion in plastic wrap to prevent dehydration in the refrigerator. In fact, it’s a good idea to wrap your whole cucumbers in plastic or store them in a zipper bag in the fridge to keep them crisp.

Bitter-tasting cucumbers are a common problem caused by high temperatures, dry soil, low fertility, or disease. Unhealthy plants produce poor-quality fruit. Once a plant produces a bitter cucumber, it must be removed because all subsequent cucumbers will be affected the same way.

Filed under: growing

Growing Asparagus

Bundle of asparagus spearsAsparagus was first cultivated about 2500 years ago in Greece. Asparagus is a Greek word, meaning stalk or shoot. The Greeks believed asparagus was a herbal medicine which, among other things, would cure toothaches and prevent bee stings.
Second century Physician, Galen, described asparagus as “cleansing and healing”. Claims for medicinal benefits of asparagus persist to this day. The Romans became great lovers of asparagus, and grew it in high-walled courtyards. In their conquests, they spread it to the Gauls, Germans, Britains and from there, the rest of the world.

The asparagus plant is a member of the lily family, which also includes onions, leeks and garlic.

Asparagus is a hardy perennial. It is the only common vegetable that grows wild along roadsides and railroad tracks over a large part of the country. Although establishing a good asparagus bed requires considerable work, your efforts will be rewarded. A well-planned bed can last from 20 to 30 years. For this reason, asparagus should be planted at the side or end of the garden, where it will not be disturbed by normal garden cultivation. Asparagus is one of the first vegetables ready to harvest in the spring.

Calendar

  • Harvest early Spring through June.
  • After harvest, fertilize with 12-12-12 at 2 pounds per 100 square feet.
  • Snap off all remaining spears.
  • In the fall after the first freeze, trim the fern a few inches from the ground.

Recommended Varieties

The list of commonly available varieties has significantly changed in recent years. Standard varieties include:

  • Mary Washington
  • Martha Washington
  • Waltham Washington

They are still being offered; but a number of new varieties that are either predominantly or all male recently have been introduced in to common usage. Asparagus plants are naturally either male or female. The female plants bear seeds, which take considerable energy from the plant and sprout new seedlings, which cause overcrowding in the bed. Male plants produce thicker, larger spears because they put no energy into seeds and have no weedy seedling problem. A line that produces only male plants was discovered and has been incorporated into some truly amazing varieties.

  • Jersey Giant
  • Jersey Knight
  • Jersey Prince
  • Syn 53
  • Syn 4-362
  • UC 157
  • Viking KBC

These are new hybrids with larger yields. It is advisable to plant the best variety available, as an asparagus bed should remain productive for at least 15 to 20 years. If you are starting a new bed, you may never get to choose a variety again if your bed produces that long. All the newer varieties are cold tolerant and are resistant to rust and fusarium.

Select the new all-male hybrid asparagus varieties such as Jersey Giant, Jersey Prince, and Jersey Knight. These varieties produce spears only on male plants. Seeds produced on female plants fall to the ground and become a seedling weed problem in the garden. Female plants also have to expend more energy to produce the seeds that decreases the yields of asparagus spears on female plants. The all-male hybrids out-yield the old Mary Washington varieties by 3 to 1.

The Fern

The asparagus fern is the key to growth. It is the conduit to the crown and provides nutrients to the roots for next year’s crops. It should not be trimmed until the first frost.

Soil requirements

Asparagus grows in most any soil as long as it has good internal drainage. Asparagus roots do not like waterlogged soils which will lead to root rot. It prefers a soil pH of 6.5-7.5., and will not do well if the pH is less than 6.0. Have the soil tested to determine phosphorus and potassium needs; or add 20 lbs of a 10-20-10 or similar analysis fertilizer per 1,000 square feet, tilled to a 6 inch depth before planting.

When to Plant

Asparagus should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. One-year-old crowns or plants are preferred. Seeds are sown in a production bed and allowed to grow for a year. However, caring for the small seedlings until they become established can be time consuming. Also, because the seeds are spaced a few inches apart, the crowns will have to be dug and transplanted to their permanent, wider-spaced location in the garden after one year. The young plants have compact buds in the center (crown), with numerous dangling, pencil-sized roots. Adventurous gardeners can start their own plants from seed. Although this adds a year to the process of establishing the bed, it does ensure fresh plants and the widest possible variety selection.

Buy one-year-old, healthy, disease-free crowns from a reputable crown grower. A crown is the root system of a one-year-old asparagus plant that is grown from seed. Each crown can produce 1/2 lb. of spears per year when fully established.

Asparagus can be planted from mid-April to late May after the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees F. There is no advantage to planting the crowns in cold, wet soils. They will not grow until the soil warms and there is danger of the plants being more susceptible to Fusarium crown rot if crowns are exposed to cold, wet soils over a prolonged period. Plant the asparagus at either the west or north side of the garden so that it will not shade the other vegetables and will not be injured when the rest of the garden is tilled.

Spacing & Depth

Place the plants in a trench 12 to 18 inches wide and a full six inches deep. The crowns should be spaced 1 foot apart. Spread the roots out uniformly, with the crown bud side up, in an upright, centered position, slightly higher than the roots. Apply about 1 lb. of 0-46-0 (triple superphosphate) or 2 lbs. of 0-20-0 (superphosphate) fertilizer per 50 feet of row in the bottom of the furrow before planting. This will make phosphorus immediately available to the crowns. Omitting this procedure will result in decreased yields and the spear production will not be as vigorous. If more than one row is planted, space the rows five feet apart from center to center. Wide between-row spacing is necessary because the vigorously growing fern will fill in the space quickly. Wide spacing also promotes rapid drying of the fern to help prevent the onset of fungus diseases.

Cover the crown with two inches of soil. Gradually fill the remaining portion of the trench during the first summer as the plants grow taller. Asparagus has a tendency to “rise” as the plants mature, the crowns gradually growing closer to the soil surface. Many gardeners apply an additional 1 to 2 inches of soil from between the rows in later years. However, do not compact the soil over the newly filled furrow or the emergence of the asparagus will be severely reduced. Spears should emerge within one week in moist soils.

Do not harvest the asparagus during the planting year. Spears will be produced from expanded buds on the crown. As the spears elongate and reach a height of about 8 to 9 inches, the tips will open. The spear will become woody to support the small branchlets that become ferns. The ferns produce food for the plant and then move it down to the crown for next year’s spear production.

Asparagus is very drought tolerant and can usually grow without supplemental watering because it seeks moisture deep in the soil. However, if rainfall is insufficient when planting or afterwards, it is beneficial to irrigate the crowns. Otherwise the plants will become stressed and vigorous growth will be impeded.

Care

As asparagus plants grow, they produce a mat of roots that spreads horizontally rather than vertically. In the first year, the top growth is spindly. As the plants become older, the stems become larger in diameter.

As noted, asparagus plants are dioecious (either solely male or solely female). The female plants develop more spears or stems than the male plants, but the stems are smaller in diameter. With normal open-pollinated varieties, gardeners plant both male and female plants in an approximate ration of 1:1. After the first year, small red berries form on the female plants in late summer. These then fall to the ground, sprouting plants that essentially become perennial weeds in the asparagus bed.

Because asparagus remain in place for years, advance soil preparation helps future production greatly. Working green manure crops, compost, manure, or other organic materials into the proposed bed well in advance of planting is a good approach. Asparagus should be fertilized in the same way as the rest of the garden the first 3 years. In the spring, apply 10-10-10, 12-12-12 or 15-15-15 fertilizer at the rate of 20 to 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet of area or 2 pounds per 100 square feet and incorporate with soil tillage. Starting in the fourth year, apply the same amount of fertilizer but delay application until June or July (immediately after the final harvest). This approach encourages vigorous growth of the “fern,” which produces and stores nutrients in the roots for next year’s production season.

Weed Control

Weeds and grasses are the worst problems with asparagus. They compete with the developing spears, make an unsightly area in the garden and significantly decrease yield and quality. Start frequent, light, shallow cultivation early in the spring in both young plantings and mature patches that are being harvested.

Weed control can be accomplished by hand hoeing and cultivating during the planting year since there are no herbicides labeled for use in asparagus during the first year. Labeled pre-emergence herbicides may be used during the second spring, by applying it over the shredded fern, about three weeks before spear emergence . Do not use salt as a weed killer. It will not harm the asparagus, but it inhibits water penetration in the soil. Also, rains can leach the salt out of the asparagus bed and into the rest of the garden, injuring other vegetables that are less salt tolerant than asparagus.

Harvesting

Asparagus can be harvested the third year after planting crowns, but for no more than one month the first season. The plant is still expanding its root storage system and excessive removal of spears weakens the plants. During the fourth year and thereafter, the spears may be harvested from their first appearance in the spring through May or June (as long as 8 to 10 weeks).

Harvest spears 5 to 8 inches in length by cutting or snapping. To cut a spear, run a knife into the soil at the base of the spear and carefully sever it. Because the spear is cut below the point where fiber develops, it becomes necessary to remove the fibrous base from the tender stalk. Cutting may damage some spear tips that have not yet emerged from the ground. To snap a spear, grasp it near the base and bend it toward the ground. The spear breaks at the lowest point where it is free of fiber. There is no need to cut asparagus below the soil with a knife. This may injure other buds on the crown that will send up new spears. The small stub that is left in the soil after snapping, dries up and disintegrates. A new spear does not come up at the same spot, but comes up from another bud that enlarges on another part of the crown.

Either method is acceptable. Cutting is often preferred by commercial growers and snapping by home gardeners. Asparagus deteriorates rapidly after harvest. If it is not eaten immediately, it should be processed or refrigerated.

As the tips of the spears start to loosen (known as “ferning out”), fiber begins to develop at the base of the spears, causing them to become tough. The diameter of the spear has no bearing on its toughness. When harvesting, the asparagus patch should be picked clean, never allowing any spears to fern out, as this gives asparagus beetles an excellent site to lay their eggs.

The year after planting, asparagus can be harvested several times throughout a three-week period, depending on air temperatures. Research shows there is no need to wait two years after planting before harvesting. In fact, harvesting the year after planting will stimulate more bud production on the crown and provide greater yields in future years, as compared with waiting two years before harvesting.

Asparagus spears will start to emerge when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F. After this, growth of asparagus is dependent on air temperature. Early in the season, 7 to 9 inch spears might be harvested every 2 to 4 days. As air temperatures increase, harvesting frequencies will increase to once or twice per day, harvesting 5 to 7 inch spears before the tips start to fern out and lose quality. The second year after planting, the length of harvest can increase to about 4 to 6 weeks. The third year after planting and thereafter, harvesting can continue for 6 to 8 weeks. Since the length of harvest season will vary from year-to-year depending on air temperature, stop the harvest when the diameter of 3/4 of the spears becomes small (less then 3/8 inch). Experience gained by growing the crop will make it easier for the gardener to know when to discontinue the harvest.

After Harvest

When harvest is finished, snap all the spears off at ground level. New spears will then emerge, fern out, and provide a large canopy to cover the space between the rows. Once a dense fern canopy is formed, weed growth will be shaded out.

Following freezing weather in the fall, the asparagus tops should be removed to decrease the chances of rust disease overwintering on the foliage.

Common Problems

Asparagus beetles are commonly found in home plantings. If numerous, they may be controlled by a suggested insecticide or by handpicking.

Asparagus rust can be a problem in the Midwest. Moisture left on the plant for 10 hours can help to spread the disease. Plant resistant varieties.

Inspect the ferns throughout the season for insect feeding and fern dieback. Asparagus beetles chew on the fern, causing the stem to turn brown and reducing the yield the next year. Spray the ferns with an approved insecticide when beetles are seen. For disease prevention, spray with an approved fungicide on a 7 to 14 day schedule beginning when the ferns reach a 3 to 4 foot height and continuing until mid September.

Do not cut down the fern growth at the end of the growing season. The all-male hybrids stay green until frost, enabling photosynthesis to occur longer throughout the season. Leave the dead fern growth intact over the winter. This catches snow for additional soil moisture and keeps the soil temperature about 5 degrees F cooler than bare soil with no covering of dead fern. The cooler soil temperature is helpful in delaying the early emergence of asparagus in the spring, when air temperatures might rise prematurely and then fall again, predisposing the spears to frost damage. Frost-damaged spears should be snapped and discarded.

Remove the old fern growth by cutting or mowing as low as possible during the first week of April. Dead stalks are very sharp and can easily skin knuckles when harvesting new spears.

Questions & Answers

Q. What causes my asparagus spears to have loose heads?

A. When the weather turns hot, the growing point expands rapidly and the bracts (modified green leaves) are spread by the early development of the stems and ferns. The asparagus is safe to eat because only the appearance is affected.

Q. Early spring freezes caused the asparagus spears in my garden to turn brown and wither. Are they safe to eat?

A. Frozen tips should be picked and thrown away. These spears, although not poisonous, are off-flavor.

Q. Can I start asparagus from seed?

A. Yes. You can grow your own plants by planting seeds 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in the row. Start the seeds in the spring when the soil temperatures have reached 60°F. Dig the plants the following spring, before growth begins and transplant them to the permanent bed as soon as the garden can be worked. Growing your own plants delays establishment of your bed an additional year, but it ensures that you are starting with freshly dug crowns that have not lost vigor by being dug, stored and shipped. Also, variety selection is usually much greater when shopping for seeds rather than crowns.

Q. What causes crooked spears?

A. Asparagus spears grow quickly and are sensitive to mechanical injury from cultivation or cutting tools, insects or wind-blown soil particles. Injured areas grow slowly so that the rapid growth on the opposite side causes spears to curve toward the injured side. The cause of flattened (faciated) spears is unknown.

Selection & Storage

Asparagus is spring’s most luxurious vegetable. It was once cultivated for medicinal purposes as a natural remedy for blood cleansing and diuretic properties. During the Renaissance, asparagus was also promoted as an aphrodisiac and banned from the tables of most nunneries.

Botanically, asparagus is a member of the lily family, closely related to onions and leeks, though it bears no resemblance to them in appearance or flavor. It is a finicky plant, harvested by hand and requiring much attention during the brief growing season. Left to mature it will sprout into beautiful feathery ferns that are often used in floral arrangements.

While Europeans prize white asparagus, Americans tend to prefer the green or violet-green varieties. When buying asparagus look for compact tips and smooth green stems that are uniform in color down the length of the stem. Check the cut stem end for any signs of drying and always avoid withered spears.

Pencil thin or thick stems can be equally delicious. Contrary to popular belief, thinner stems are not an indication of tenderness. Thick stems are already thick when they poke their heads out of the soil and thin stems do not get thicker with age. Tenderness is related to maturity and freshness.

Asparagus comes in a variety of colors including white, violet-green, pink and purple. If you must store any variety of asparagus, treat it as you would treat a cut flower. Trim the stems and stand them in a glass with one to two inches of water. Cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days or until ready to use.
Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Asparagus is low in calories and provides substantial amounts of two antioxidants—vitamin A and C. It truly shines as a source of folate and has a goodly amount of fiber.

Asparagus is very perishable and should be harvested in the morning when air temperatures are cool. After picking, immerse the spears in ice-cold water to remove the heat; then drain the water and place the spears in plastic bags. Store in the refrigerator at 38 to 40 degrees F. Asparagus will keep for 1 to 2 weeks with little loss of quality.

Nutrition Facts

(Serving size, 1/2 cup cooked)
Calories 90
Protein 2 grams
Carbohydrates 4 grams
Dietary Fiber 1.5 grams
Potassium 144 mg
Vitamin C 10 mg
Folate 131 mcg
Vitamin A 485 IU

Preparation & Serving

Cook asparagus as soon as possible to ensure peak flavor. Spears start to lose flavor and moisture as soon as they are harvested. For this reason, imported asparagus, while still good, tends to lack flavor, making home grown Michigan and Illinois spring crops most desirable.

To prepare, wash under cool running water and trim an inch from the stem end. Use a vegetable peeler to peel an inch or two off the bottom end, if desired. The peelings can be added to the cooking water which, can be refrigerated and reused. The water becomes quite flavorful and is excellent in stock and soup.

Peeling asparagus can be tedious and many cooks prefer breaking the tough ends. To use this method, hold the top half of an asparagus spear in one hand and the bottom half between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Bend each spear until it snaps in two pieces. The spears will naturally break where the tender part meets the tough end. Although this method produces a lot of waste, the tougher bottoms can be saved for soup or stock, if desired.

Asparagus can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted or incorporated into casseroles and salads. Tall narrow asparagus kettles are designed to cook the spears upright, immersing the stems while the tender heads steam. It is not necessary to purchase an asparagus kettle in order to cook asparagus properly. The key to perfectly cooked asparagus is “cook it briefly.”

The flavor of asparagus marries well with many ingredients and it is equally delicious dressed simply with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Raw asparagus is also tasty served as crudités with a flavorful dipping sauce. When using asparagus as a salad, always wait until serving time to add the dressing as the high acid content of most dressings will turn the spears yellow. Add fresh chives, savory, thyme, and tarragon to enhance the flavor of cooked asparagus.

Home Preservation

The best home preservation method to use for asparagus is freezing.

1. Select young tender spears. Wash thoroughly and sort into like sizes.
2. Trim ends and peel or use the “break method” described above. Cut spears into even lengths to fit freezer bags or freezer containers.
3. Water blanch small spears 2 minutes, medium spears 3 minutes and large spears 4 minutes.
4. Remove from blanching water and immediately immerse in ice water for 5 minutes to cool. Drain slightly.
5. Package, leaving no headspace, seal, label, date and freeze at zero degrees or below for up to one year.

Filed under: growing

Growing Green Beans

Several green beansGreen beans, aka snap beans or string beans, are pretty easy to grow in the Midwest. They are a very popular warm season vegetable.

Types

There are two groups of beans: bush and pole. Bush beans grow as a bush and require no support while pole beans need a framework to hold them up. We have had great luck with Blue Lake 274 bush beans. They take 58 days to harvest and are plump with good yield. Also, they are bean mosaic resistant.
A good pole bean is Blue Lake which takes 65 days to harvest and are stringless.

Planting

Plant after the last frost (May 15th in Peoria area) has subsided. We have always grown beans from a seed which you can get in packets from a nearby supply store. Space out planting 2 weeks so a plentiful supply is available through August. Do not plant beans in the same spot as last year since disease and/or pests may have wintered over. It is best to get new bean seeds every year.

Depth

Beans are planted at a depth of 1 inch. Bush beans are spaced out 4 inches between beans and 18 to 24 inches between rows. Pole beans are planted 6 inches apart in rows of 30 inches. Water after planting. Do not soak beans in water before planting as they tend to crack.

Care

Beans have a shallow root system so cultivating nearby with a hoe can damage them. We recommend hand-picking weeds within 1 foot of the plant after a rain if possible. We have had good luck mulching bean plants as it keeps the ground at a more stable temperature and holds moisture in.

Fertilizer

Since beans are legumes, they require no additional nitrogen. A 0-10-10 fertilizer will work well but can be hard to find.

Harvest

Pick beans after they are thoroughly dried (i.e. do not pick in the morning). The beans should be plump and long. Bean plants are brittle and easy to break so be careful. You can use a small scissors and snip the bean off or carefully yank on it. The plants will continue to generate new beans after they are harvested. We usually get 3 or 4 pickings in a season.
Toss the beans in a plastic bucket as they are harvested. Store unwashed until ready for use. Remember, the best tasting beans are immature ones; that is they do not have full seeds in them. The longer they linger on the plant, the tougher they become.

Problems

Bean mosaic disease turns leaves yellow and reduces yield.
Bacterial bean blight causes bright yellow or brown spots on the leaves. Avoid contact with wet plants and use disease-free seeds.

Storage

Beans can be stored, unwashed, for up to 3 days in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper part of the refrigerator. The bag prevents moisture loss and wilting. Green beans are excellent candidates for canning. We have canned them nearly every year. Beans dated 2004 are still being used in our soups or casseroles. Before freezing, the beans need to be blanched.

Doug

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Growing Strawberries

Start out with disease-free plants.

Site Selection

Good soil drainage is imperative. This controls Leather Rot and Red Stele. Raised beds work well. The site needs good air circulation and plenty of sunshine. Strawberries need quick drying foliage and fruit after a rain to control many diseases.

Fertilize

Fertilize in early spring, before flowering, and after harvest, in July, with 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Replant strawberry beds every 3 years because in most cases some type of disease will set in. Also, low fruit production occurs.

Pests

Rabbits, field mice, squirrels, and birds. There is no honor among thieves.

Transplanting Strawberries

Early spring is the best.

Mulching

Research and grower experience has shown that a good layer of straw mulch is very beneficial for controlling fruit rots, especially leather rot. Bare soil between the rows should be avoided and a good layer of straw mulch is highly recommended. The mulch keeps berries from contacting the soil where the leather rot fungus overwinters. In addition, it also aids in preventing infested soil from splashing onto the berries. Recent research has shown that plastic mulch (a layer of plastic) under the plants and/or between the rows increases splash dispersal of the pathogens that cause anthracnose and leather rot. Especially where fruit rots have been a problem, the use of plastic mulch is not recommended.

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Growing Broccoli

Broccoli floret
Enjoy easy to grow broccoli in your garden.

Summary

  • Planting method: Transplant 4-6 weeks before last spring frost date; for fall crop, transplant in late summer.
  • Spacing: 12-24 inches in rows 24 inches apart; 1 per square foot for intensive beds
  • Days to harvest: 55-65
  • High in vitamin C and beta carotene

Varieties

Many varieties do well in the home garden. Try two each year. Choose the one you like better and grow it again the following year with yet another variety. Keep doing this each year. This is a simple way to find out which variety does best in your garden.

  • Cruiser (58 days to harvest; uniform, high yield; tolerant of dry conditions)
  • Green Comet (55 days; early; heat tolerant)
  • Green Goliath (60 days; spring, summer or fall; tolerant of extremes)

Planting

Get broccoli into the garden as early as possible. Start your own seeds 4 to 6 weeks ahead of the frost-free date in your area orr buy transplants from a reliable garden center. Look for compact, stocky plants.

Broccoli plants grow upright, often reaching a height of 2 1/2 feet. Space plants one foot apart in all directions in beds.

Transplants are recommended though you can start from seed. Set seedlings outdoors as soon as you can work the soil. If frost threatens, protect the seedlings with cloches. To prevent cutworm damage, place a two-inch collar of stiff paper around the stem of each plant before planting. At least 1 inch of the collar should extend below the soil line, with 2 inches above. Space rows about 2 feet apart, with at least 20 inches of space between the plants.

Maintenance

Use starter fertilizer for transplants and side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer (10-10-10) when the plants are half grown.

Broccoli likes a lot of water. Use a thick mulch around each plant to keep soil moist. Weed regularly.

Broccoli has two mortal enemies: rabbits and cabbageworms. Protect the plants with a fence or small, individual wire cages. I use cut-up 1 gallon milk jugs. Because rabbits stop feeding on broccoli when it gets big, remove the cages when the plants get large. To combat worms, spray broccoli plants at weekly intervals with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a biological control that kills worms but is totally safe to animals and humans. Organic gardeners accept its use.

Harvest

Pick the green flower buds before they start to spread into little yellow flowers. The buds should be firm and tight, just as they are in the grocery store, and 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Cut the bud with a sharp knife five inches down the stalk.

Heads that start to flower are past their prime, although the flowers are decorative and edible. A number of smaller buds will form below the central bud after you pick it. Harvest these in the same way as the original, larger bud. Keep harvesting to force continued production.

Storage

Store the broccoli, *unwashed*, in loose or perforated plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator up to 5 days. Broccoli left unrefrigerated quickly becomes fibrous and woody. Wet broccoli quickly becomes limp and moldy in the refrigerator. Old broccoli may look fine, but it develops strong undesirable flavors. It tastes best and is highest in nutritional value when storage time is brief.

Troubleshooting

Nipped leaves – rabbits
Holes in leaves – diamondback worms
Yellow flowers – Heads ready to flower. Planting too late in the spring or failing to give the plants a good start contributes to this condition. Premature flower development also may be caused by interrupted growth resulting from extended chilling of young plants, extremely early planting, holding plants in a garden center until they are too old or too dry, and severe drought conditions.
Small heads – They form soon after plants are set in the garden (called “buttons”) and usually result from seedlings being held too long or improperly before sale or planting.

Recipes

Try this stir-fried steam broccoli recipe. I make this ad infinitum when broccoli is in season. Also frozen broccoli works well, too, in the off-season.

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Growing Onions

Single yellow onion

I have had very good luck growing onions – and am I glad! My favorite are red onions – they are so much better than yellow or white onions on most everything. Unfortunately they do not last as long as yellow ones which is not a problem because they get used so quickly. Another plus is I can grow green onions; which I love. Check out some good recipes at dougthecook.com. Make sure the onions bought are long-day onions; short-day onions are for the South and do not grow well in the Midwest.

Planting

My onions are planted in the spring from sets as that is the easiest way. If the onion is larger than a dime, use those for green onions. Remember to plant them with the roots down (one year I planted several with the roots up – they were about one half the size of the ones planted with roots down). Good Friday is when I plant the cool weather crops: onions, potatoes, spinach, lettuce, and radishes. You could plant the last week of March but Cletus insists on Good Friday. The onions should be planted 1 inch deep. If you are growing green onions, plant them 2 inches apart from the dry onions and put them every other onion. They will be pulled before crowding becomes an issue. If no green onions, put them 3 inches apart. Put the rows about 1 foot apart. Do not hill onions or else they may rot at the base.

Care

Onions have shallow roots and are easily taken over by weeds. Boy, do I know about that! Late in the season the onions are almost indistinguishable from weeds unless you are ruthless at keeping them weeded. Foxtails are especially prevalent near harvest time. Many farmers do not bother weeding them – too much work…and I agree – it is a lot of work keeping them weeded.
I side dress onions with 10-10-10 fertilizer about half way through the season. Onions are watered once a week, depending on the rain, so they get 1 inch total.

Harvest

Yank the green onions when they are about 6 to 10 inches long – they should be crisp. If any have stalked, use them immediately as they are not very good if they sit out. Harvest dry onions in late July or early August when most of the tops fall over. I use a potato fork to harvest them. Trying to pull them out resulted in too many broken tops. Allow them to fall over naturally; that way they produce the biggest bulb. Scallions have no bulb while green onions have a 1 to 2 inch bulb.

Storage

Try and use green onions and scallions soon after they are harvested. Store in a perforated bag in a refrigerator up to 1 week after harvest.

Post Harvest

After harvesting the onions in the morning, let them sit in the shade for the rest of the day; unless it is raining. Put them on screens or hang them for 2 or 3 weeks. They need full air circulation in a fairly low humidity place. Many farmers put their onions in the attic where it is nice and dry. After the bulbs have dried cut their tops off 1 or 2 inches from the bulb. Discard any bulbs that have green growing from them. Store in a cool, dry place. They should last until late winter. Ideally storage temperature is 33 to 39 degrees. 40 and over they start to sprout. Some farmers put their onions in burlap sacks to store them.

DougtheGardener

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