Easy Gardening – Why Fall & Winter is the Best

grow lettuce Got a text last week from a wonderful lady, who inspired this post.  I suspect the heavy bug pressure she in her garden this summer, is what has had she and her husband decide not to garden this fall and winter.  I see this allot, people are going into the fall, having had some difficulty gardening, whether it be bug pressure, drought, or life circumstances, get garden burn-out and stop, right when it becomes the easiest time of year to garden.

Here are 3 reasons for you to reconsider and get that fall and winter garden going:

  1. Lack of bugs – As cooler weather approaches, there are not only less bugs eating your food, but less bugs wanting to eat you. Once there is a freeze, you don’t have to worry about bug pressure until it gets warm again next spring.  A major relief.
  2. Pleasant Weather – The cooler weather is also much more pleasant to be out in your garden than the brutal heat of summer. Your garden can be a welcome haven of outdoor time when it is enjoyable to be outside. Taking an afternoon day-trip to your garden is less expensive and time consuming and still allow you to get away from work and other concerns.
  3. You get food all year! Most everyone loves their homegrown summer tomatoes. Think about how much better your homegrown tomatoes are than the ones you buy in the supermarket. Ok, translate that into your salads, green smoothies, and winter root veggie soups.  Yes, homegrown produce of any variety is going to be fresher, more satisfying  and better tasting then store bought.

You still have time, the end of September is the time in US Zone 7 to get those fall and winter transplants in the ground.

I hope all of you out there who are bailing on your garden this fall, reconsider.

Kale, raised beds and hoop house uncovered on a sunny fall day

Territorial Seed Company – 2017 Seed Catalog Reviews

territorial seed company 2017 catalog For years I have considered Territorial to perhaps be my favorite seed company although I really cannot pick one favorite as you can see from this series of posts.  The reason Territorial Seeds has gotten consistently high marks is because they have such a wonderful large diverse selection of varieties, with most being open pollinated. I must say, for 2017, they seem to be moving into more hybrids to a disappointing degree. I prefer a large selection of open pollinated varieties with a few highly tested hybrids for certain situations.

That said, they have made one major improvement in their already outstanding catalog.  Territorial has always provided nutra red carrotoutstanding growing information in their catalogs, making it a great resources, but for 2017, they have improved the layout of the information, which now looks similar to Sow True Seed and is much easier to read than previous years.

Territorial is very conscious of offering quality non-GMO seed. Although not all their selections are organic, they do have organic dazzeling blue lacinato kal eoptions. One of the first seed companies we started using in the 1980s and the only one who has had the sustaining power to keep us coming back all these decades later.

Some interesting new varieties they are offering for 2017 are Sugar Magnolia, a violet-podded snap pea, Nurti-Red carrot, high in lycopene, Dazzling Blue lacinato kale with shocking pink midribs.

organe burst cauliflowerWanting an orange cauliflower the variety of which is NOT owned by Monsanto (Cheddar is owned by them), try Orange Burst Cauliflower, a hybrid worth trying.

They carry many of our must have favorites including Blue Lake pole bean, Purple peacock broccoli, Alderman shelling pea, and Gourmet orange bell pepper.  For red slicing tomatoes we like Stupice, Siletz victoria butterhead lettuceand Carmelo.  For smaller tomatoes try Gold Nugget, Chocolate cherry and Principe Borchese.

I’ve always loved their outstanding selection of lettuces. Some favorites include: Matina sweet and Victoria butterheads, Loma raven zucchiniFrench crisp, Merlot and Two Star leaf and Flashy Trout’s Back (Forellenschluss) and Marshall romaine.

If you need or want a hybrid summer squash, Territorial has our two favorites, Raven zucchini and Bush baby, which is good for small space and container gardens.  Considering great container varieties, betterbush butternut squash in a containerBetterbush hybrid butternut squash lets you harvest butternut squashes from containers.  Unheard of until recently, but we tried it last year and itterritorial seed company fall and winter catalog s true!

For those wanting to garden in all four seasons, Territorial has a Fall & Winter catalog dedicated to varieties for the cold seasons, including overwintering varieties.  This catalog has the same type of great growing information you find in their Spring & Summer catalog.

2017 Seed Catalog Reviews – Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

southern exposure seed exchange 2017 catalogFor you local Virginians who want to support Virginia businesses, Southern Exposure is for you.

They are a great source of varieties that grow well in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states, including some local heirloom varieties. Popular examples include Old Virginia tomato, an heirloom of the famous VA Ginter family, Anne Arundel melon, grown in Maryland since 1731, Mountain Princess tomato from the Monongahela National Forest area of West Virginia, and Seminole pumpkin, cultivated in Florida by Native American Indians since the 1500s and now grown by Living old virginia tomatoEnergy Farm in Virginia.

Even if you are in another area of the country, they are a wonderful resource. They have a larger than usual selection of collards, okra, southern (or cow, or blackeye) peas, and tomatillos. If you want to try tenn red valencia peanuts your hand at growing natural colored cotton or peanuts, Southern Exposure is your seed company.

Interestinwinthers white pole beang new selections for 2017 include Withner White Cornfield bean, an Indiana heirloom for growing up corn stalks, and Geranium Kiss, a red dwarf determinate tomato for containers.

Early White Bush Scallop patty pan squash has been a family favorite of ours since the 1960s and these folks have it along with our other famoon and stars yellow fleshed watermelonmily favorite, yellow crookneck. We crimson sweet watermelon also like Sweet Valentine romaine lettuce which we have not found elsewhere in recent years.

I like their selection of watermelons which include red, yellow and orange fleshed varieties.

Southern Exposure has a good selection of seed saving equipment. We always enjoy their selections for hot humid climates like ours, hope you do too.

Sow True Seed – 2017 Seed Catalog Reviews

sow true seed 2017 catalog We love these folks more and more each year.  Every time I open their catalog, it makes me happy.  Their mission statement sort of covers why: “.. to preserve our shared botanical heritage and grow a new era of sustainable culture and ecological wisdom. We support independent, regional agricultural initiatives that foster vibrant, sustainable economy, and true food sovereignty.”

They carry only open pollinated varieties that ‘grow true from seed”, meaning when you save seed and plant it, you’ll get the same variety. Although they are not 100% organic, they support small farms who cannot afford organic or biodynamic certification. They provide seed from their network of skilled regional growers and independently-owned North American seed producers. That often means you are supportingsow-true-seed-custom-seed-packets small family farmers when you buy seed from Sow True Seed.

Want custom printed seed packets for your special event, business or fundraiser?  You can get them from Sow True.

Sow True Seed has an impressive, very well rounded section of seeds, red pimento pepperswhich can be hard to find from companies who don’t carry loads of varieties for each plant.  It is obvious they really take care in varietal selection.  This is a standout aspect of Sow True.  They could easily be your only seed company and you’ll have a great garden.

Some of our favorite selections include: Jericho lettuce, Ashe County, Red Ruffled and Tangerine pimento sweet peppers, Hearts of Gold Ronde de Nice summer round squash melon, Red Acre cabbage, Snowball self-blanching cauliflower, Ronde de Nice summer squash, Blue Hubbard winter squash, and Bush Pickle cucumber which is great for containers.  They also carry Tam Jalapeno, a variety we grew years ago to make salsa for those who can’t take much heat.

hearts of gold melon Sow True Seed also has a fun selection of Seed Collections for those just starting out or wanting some inspiration. Their catalog provides useful information on throughout, including companion planting information, making the catalog a valuable resource.

Please support these folks, as they are a wow of doing the future right. Plus how awesome is there name?

2017 Seed Catalog Reviews – High Mowing Seeds

High Mowing 2017 Seed Catalog cover If you are one of those people who want organic seed, not matter what and no matter the price, High Mowing if your seed company.  They carry 100% certified organic, non-GMO verified seeds.  That folks, is a big deal.

Having this type of standard does come with a cost though, their seeds are often high priced compared to other companies.

They also carry a large selection of hybrid; non-GMO, varieties.  Although seed savers are not fond of hybrids, those who are looking for new varieties bred for our changing climate are grateful for them. High Mowing is very picky about who they partner with and offer such a large selection of hybrids, from modern hybridizer’s intent on expanding organic seed varieties.  They carry seeds from breeders at Cornel University, Vitalis,  Kultursaat, Genesis Seeds and other University and quality seed breeding programs.

parsnip photoHigh Mowing serves organic growers and is dedicated to providing very high quality seed. A new standout for us this year is their Halblange Parsnip, an open pollinated variety from Bingenheinmer Saatgut, a biodynamic company in Germany.  Shorter and stockier roots are easier to grow in our clay soils, or in gardens where the soil has not been built up so much yet.

https://seeds.bingenheimersaatgut.de/

waldman's dark green lettuce They also carry our hands-down favorite green leaf lettuce, Waldman’s Dark Green.  We also particularly like their selections of radishes and spinach.

Whenever we have a bug or other problem that prompts us to look for a hybrid, we always go to High Mowing first.  We’ve liked Caraflex F1 cabbage and Yaya F1 carrot, all first offered from High Mowing,  so much they have become staples in our differnt colored radishes garden.

As you can see, the folks at High Mowing carry a unique collection of quality varieties from around the world,  Great folks, great seed.  Our only con, is some varieties are above our home gardener recommended price point of being below $4 a packet. You get what you pay for.

Seeds Matter – 2017 Seed Catalog Reviews – Seed Saver’s Exchange

Each year we review seed catalogs and pick our favorites who meet our criteria for supporting biodiversity, organic gardening, local communities and provide safe, non-gmo seed.

2017 Seed Saver's Exchange Catlatog CoverWhat’s not to love here?  Seed Saver’s Exchange is an easy place to start every year because they not only house the largest privately held seed back of open pollinated seed in the US, but also manage the largest seed exchange.  They carry heirloom, untreated, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds.  They also have hundreds of certified organic varieties.

Reading their catalog is a walk through history.  Each varietal description is the short story of its history..

Chioggia Beet: “Pre-1840 Italian historic variety, introduced to the U.S. before 1865. Uniquely beautiful flesh has alternating red and white concentric ringrandpa-admires-lettucegs …”

Grandpa Admire’s butterhead lettuce: “From the family of George Admire (1822-1911) a Civil War veteran who migrated west to Putnam County, Missouri during the 1850s.  Bronze-tinged leaves form loose heads….”

trophy-tomotoNot hooked yet, check out Trophy tomato: “Introduced in 1870 by Colonel George E Waring, Jr, of Rhode Island. Sold for five dollars a packet (equivalent to eighty dollars today). Gardeners paid the exorbitant price hoping to win the $00 grand prize at the local fair.” …

In addition to these great stories come an amazing diversity of high quality seed.  Become a member and you have access to literally thousands of variety, all open pollinated, so if you save historic-emerald-gem-melonseed from the plants you grow, you know you will be the same variety from the seeds you saved.

Some of our favorite must have varieties are: True Lemon moonglow-2cucumber, Emerald Gem melon, Listada de Gandia eggplant, Christmas Limas, CiCicco Broccoli, St Valery carrot, Cherokee Purple, Moonglow, and Tommy Toe tomatoes to name a few.

Supporting Seelistada-de-gandiad Savers’ Exchange is one way to vote with your dollar in favor of preserving our seed heritage and biodiversity.  As we said, what’s not to love.

Growing Great Blueberries

Enjoy home grown blueberries
Blueberries ripening on the bush

Blueberries are very satisfying and easy to grow.

They can cost a pretty hefty amount at the store and are really easy to grow here in the mid-Atlantic area of the US.

Blueberries are native here, so even if you choose to grow cultivar varieties which produce larger fruit like I do, you can be assured they like this climate.

Blueberries are beautiful in the landscape, having white or pink flowers in spring and bright red, yellow or bronze foliage in autumn.

There are two types of blueberries: high bush & low bush.   Low bush are generally grown in northern climates like Maine and Canada. High bush are generally grown further south and the ones mostly grown in Virginia gardens.

A question I am often asked is: Should I buy them in a container or bare root?

Either is fine.

It is best to only have bare root plants shipped vs. container grown because shipping container grown plants is pricey.

Blueberry in autumn.
Blueberry in autumn.

Bare root plants are grown in the nursery for a few years (a good company will tell you how old the plants will be that you are ordering) dug up in the dormant months, kept cool and shipped in spring.

Container grown plants would be obtained locally.

Currently, we do not have a good source of container grown blueberries locally. The nursery we liked  is going out of business because the owners are retiring. Many local nurseries sell blueberry bushes for short,  limited time in early spring. Be sure and ask them if their plants are sprayed with

grow fruit at home
Heavy fruit load not yet ripe

loads of chemicals that could kill your pollinators, including the neonicotinoids that have been so much in the news lately.

To get a great selection, we recommend ordering bare root from RainTree Nursery. They sell 2-to-3 year old blueberry plants that are good sized, at least 18” tall and bushy.

When buying blueberry plants, be sure to buy at least two varieties for pollination. Also check the ripening dates, choosing two bushes each of three varieties can extend your harvest and give you a very healthy crop.

Blueberry bush in bloom
Blueberry bush in bloom

Popular varieties include the old time ‘Jersey’, which has bright yellow leaves in autumn and ‘Bluecrop’ which has red fall color.  Another yellow fall colored variety is ‘Bluegold’, which is popular with smaller space gardeners because the bushes are more compact at 4’ high. Most highbush blueberries are 6’ high. ‘Bluegold’ and ‘Earliblue’ can start your blueberry season off, then follow on with ‘Blueray’ for mid season and ‘Elliot’ or ‘Libery’ for late season fruit.   We also really like ‘Patriot’ and ‘Northland’ as they has done very well for us.

growing blueberries
Blueberries that made it to the bowl

Container gardeners might like to try the cute ‘Top Hat’ that only grows to 18”. You can choose a variety that grows to 4’ for container culture and use a larger container.

In ground, space your blueberries as far apart as their listed mature height.  So, if a variety is listed as 6′ high, plant them 6′ apart, or a little farther, if you have room, for good aeration and light.

Three important notes about growing blueberries:

  1. Choose a sunny location. Although blueberries grow in partial shade, they need full sun to produce lots of berries.
  2. Plant them separate from your annual vegetable garden because they have different soil requirements. Blueberries want acidic soil, unlike your annual veggies.  A good mulch for blueberries is pine needles.
  3. Plant your blueberries where they will naturally get plenty of water because they are shallow rooted plants. You can dig swales to capture water for your blueberries in heavy rains.

One last note, invest in a few post and bird netting so you get your crop instead of the birds.

Hope this inspires you to try growing some blueberries at home, whether you want to eat them fresh or make summer blueberry ice cream, they are an easy and satisfying perennial crop to grow.

Mix it up! Companion Plant your Annual Vegetable Garden

Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape incorporates flowers and herbs along with vegetables.

Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…

One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:

Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean.  So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil.  A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:

  • Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
  • Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies.  Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips.  Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more.  In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!

Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:

  • tomatoes/lettuce/onions/marigolds/parsley
  • peppers/basil/marigolds/chamomile
  • peas/carrots/lettuce
  • bush beans/potatoes/flax
  • cucumbers/radishes/nasturtiums/dill
Squash & Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are good companions for not only cucumbers, but also squash and melons.

Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!

Container gardeners, you can do this too!  The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.

I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.