How to put your garden to bed

Just last weekend, I had the opportunity to take my very first Seattle Tilth veggie gardening class. It was awesome! It really hit me that I truly love gardening, actually love it so much that I get amped up talking about the soil ecosystem. I know I’m excited about something when I actually arrive early, and it did not disappoint.img_5862

I chose to take this class “Put Your Garden to Bed” because I always struggle with actually knowing when to call it quits and how to make the most of my garden during the winter. This class provided a plethora of knowledge, but to keep it simple, check out my key takeaways specific to a garden in the Pacific Northwest.

Soil is everything. I have said it before and I will say it again and again, the health of the soil ecosystem directly correlates to the health of the plants. Healthy soil is full of organisms that convert organic matter and compost into nutrients for plants. It is important to continue to build this ecosystem in the winter months. All of the takeaways listed below are recommended with the end goal of maintaining and building healthy soil through the winter months.

Remove warm season crops, keep cool season crops. This was my biggest question going into the class, which vegetables do I need to finish harvesting and remove and which ones can I continue to grow through the winter months?dsc_0025

  • Remove: warm season crops such as beans, tomatoes, squash, peas, basil, peppers, cucumbers, celery, and onions. These need to be harvested and removed as soon as possible in order to seed a cover crop, garlic, and/or shallots.
  • Keep: cool season crops such as kale, lettuce, leeks, beets, and carrots. These are much easier to keep if you protect with floating row cover or a hoop house + row cover. Also, it is important to continue to harvest these cool season crops and not let them sit in the dirt the entire winter as they could rot due to the increased wetness.

Remove any plants that have disease. If you have a plant with a disease, you need to completely move this plant off site. If you live in the PNW, this means to put it into yard waste and not a compost pile. Take it off the property.

Plant a cover crop. This is the money maker! Remember how “soil is everything”? Cover crops not only protect the soil from the impact of the rain, but they inject organic matter and nutrients into the soil, while also hosting a bacterial ecosystem during months when this can become dormant. The best part, cover crops are so easy to plant!

Like anything, there are a million different types of cover crops for different goals, check out this list. However, to keep it simple, just find a soil builder mix, basically a blend of cover crops, and sprinkle this on your soil. Cover with some dirt, water, and let it grow.

dsc_0035About 4 weeks before you plant your spring vegetable seeds, you need to chop back the cover crops and put them into the soil. Basically, use a shovel to chop them up and turn them into the soil. If possible, cover with a burlap sack so that the cover crops compost faster, injecting an abundance of organic matter and nutrients into the soil. Yay!

Plant garlic, shallots, and fava beans. You can grow a few vegetables in the winter months. You need to get these in the ground now. Check out this post about planting garlic.

Mulch. Your warm season and diseased crops have been removed, your cover crop and garlic, shallots, and/or fava beans are planted. Now, you can add mulch to help keep soil temperatures a little warmer. There are several types of mulch, learn more here. I plan to use straw to protect my cool season crop and garlic. you do not need to use mulch on the cover crops. dsc_0027

There you have it, your checklist for wrapping up the garden season and making the most of your garden during the winter months. It is best to do all of this now, in the month of October. So get to it!

My last takeaway – take a class at Seattle Tilth. From veggie gardening to composting 101 to making herbal salves, there is something for everyone. It is always a good time to learn and try something new.

Check out this Crimson Clover cover crop sprouting between tomato plants. dsc_0032

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October garden to-do list

This post is for both active gardeners and those of you that want to start a garden or grow something. As much as we are starting to wrap up the 2016 gardening season, there is still plenty to be harvested, seeded, and prepped for the current season and next season (Spring 2017).

Here is your October checklist (according to my checklist):

  •  Harvest your Fall crop! And remove plants that have been fully harvested. This includes pumpkins and winter squash. I plan to leave leak and carrots in the ground at least through October, if not November. dsc_0031
  • Leave bean and pea roots in the soil. I recently read NOT to remove the entire bean and pea plant after it has been harvested. Cut it down to ground level and leave the roots in the soil to continue to release nitrogen into the soil. Many crops remove nitrogen from the soil, but peas and beans add nitrogen into the soil.
  • Add a floating row cover. To try to extend the fall crop season, add a floating row cover. The picture below is a hoop house + a row cover. I suggest building a hoop house in the winter when you are not competing with vegetables to install the hoops. So for now, try a floating row cover. dsc_0038
  • Plant garlic. Choose the location wisely, as the garlic will grow and live in this location until it is harvested in July. Plant either softneck (stores longer and tends to be what you find at the grocery store) or hardneck (doesn’t store as long, but bigger and richer in flavor and harder to find at a grocery store). Thanks to this Encyclopedia Botanica podcast about Planting Garlic, I have already purchased my garlic seed from my local Farmer’s Market so I am all ready to plant in October. I will grow primarily hardneck because we eat a lot of garlic (so I don’t need to worry about storage) and it is not typically sold at grocery stores. A 1/3 of my total garlic planting will be softneck. For more on planting garlic, check out this postDSC_0037
  • Plant Spring flower bulbs. You can plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, ranunculus, lilies, iris, crocus, and more in October. Make note of where you planted your bulbs. I have definitely dug these up a few months later when weeding. Don’t have a yard but have a deck? Then this is for you. You can absolutely grow these bulbs in pots.
  • Plant cover crops. Cover crops can grow in your soil during the winter, adding organic matter and nutrients, and keeping it healthy for next season. You can use clover, fava beans, rye grass, peas, buckwheat and more. If you decide to forego cover crops, be sure to cover your soil in mulch. For more information about cover crops, check out this post by my friend and fellow gardener.
  • Move citrus trees indoors. And any other houseplants that have been outside for the summer. I have a lemon tree that has been living outdoors, as temperatures begin to near low 50s at night, it is important to move indoors.
  • Plant blueberries and fruit trees. In the PNW, you can plant these now or in the Spring. dsc_0008
  • Prune and clean up roses. Of course, only do this after roses have finished blooming. Remove rose leaves on the ground to prevent disease.
  • Lift and divide perennials.  If you want to spread the love of any of your favorite perennials or share them with your friends. This is a great time to lift and divide them while the ground is still warm. Learn more here.

As you can tell, this is a great month to wrap up a fabulous 2016 and already start planting and prepping for 2017.

Important side note: You never have to feel like you need to do all of these things. It is simply a guide to help you decide what you want to do in your garden, yard, or in the pots on your deck.

What is on your checklist to do in the garden in October? Any tips and tricks to share?  

Pruning tomato plants

I have grown tomatoes for a few years, but this is the first one that I have pruned my plants. To be honest, I didn’t know to do this before now. Ultimately pruning will lead to more, high-quality fruit.

I was suddenly so aware of all the yellow leaves and extra branches and off shoots. I am not an expert, but this is how I am pruning my tomatoes:

  • Only “indeterminate” types of tomatoes should be pruned. These are typically tomato plants that require staking for support.
  • Remove stems with yellow and dying leaves. DSC_0634
  • Remove little off shoots (suckers).DSC_0633
  • There should only be about 3 main stems, if more develop, remove them.

I have highlighted the minimum when it comes to pruning. Since I have never done this, I am starting with the basics as I learn the art of pruning tomatoes.

Before and after pruning:

Have you ever pruned tomato plants? Please share your tips and tricks!

July is the month to plant

Now is the time to plant your seeds for a Fall harvest. Most likely your Spring crop is coming to an end and it is time to reset for the Fall. Did you miss the boat on planting a garden this last Spring? Have you always wanted to try growing veggies? Don’t fret, you have another chance and it is now.

July is sort of like the “New Year” for gardeners. A great time to reset, clean house, and try new things based on what you learned or didn’t do but wanted to do in the Spring. What you need to do now:

  • Finish harvesting your Spring crop – my lettuce bolted (the heat causes the plant to produce flowers and seeds and abandons leaf growth) so I harvested the remaining lettuce leaves and then removed the plants. DSC_0588
  • Clear out any plants that are done producing crop – peas, radishes, broccoli, garlic, and spinach have all completed their Spring harvest and have been cleared from my garden beds.
  • Prepare your soil – after you make space, be sure to add compost and fertilizer to the soil. Learn how to get your soil ready for planting. 
  • Decide what you want to grow this Fall – July is the perfect month to direct seed carrots, radishes, and green beans. I am also taking a chance and direct seeding lettuce, spinach, arugula, and beets (sometimes the seeds don’t germinate when soil temperatures exceed 75 degrees fahrenheit).
  • Get your seeds in the ground and WATER – it is hot and dry. Be sure to keep your soil wet so that your seeds can germinate and grow. DSC_0625

If you have extra time and energy, grow starts of lettuce, kale, broccoli (and any other plants that you can easily transplant). This is my backup plan if it becomes too hot and the lettuce seeds that I directly seeded don’t germinate. I will start lettuce, kale, and broccoli in starter containers and keep them in a cooler location (on my deck). Then I will have plants that are ready to be put into the garden bed as soon as another plant has completed its harvest.

One key lesson that I learned last year was to plant Fall crop in July and early August at the latest. So plant your seeds now and try to directly seed one more round at the end of the month. You should have crop that lasts up until the 1st frost (November in Seattle).

What to directly seed now:

  • Carrots
  • Bush beans
  • Radish
  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Collards
  • Peas – I am going to try one more round of peasDSC_0627

Note: If you don’t have a yard, but have a deck or outdoor space, you can still grow veggies. This is your time! Find pots, old tubs, whatever fits in your space. Be sure to prepare your soil and then directly seed into the containers. Make sure there are drainage holes in your containers.

Don’t miss this prime time to plant for Fall crop and possibly, try growing veggies for the very first time.

Always feel free to leave questions or tips in the Comment section.

Harvesting Garlic

Last October I told all y’all that I was planting Garlic for the first time. Well, 9 months later, it is ready to harvest. If you joined me, your garlic stems are brown and dry and can be pulled out of the ground.

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To harvest:

  • Pull out of ground when at least half of the stem is brown and dry (during the month of July)
  • Hang the garlic in a warm and dry location for about 2 weeks to cure (preserve the garlic so that it lasts longer)

I hung my garlic in our garden shed. Now that it is summer, it stays fairly warm at night and is definitely warm during the day.

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Now your 1 clove has turned into an entire head of garlic! Use this to season all your swiss chard, spinach, and other yummy dishes from the garden. Plus, it is loaded with vitamin B6, C, and manganese, so bring on the bad breathe.

Note: If you did not plant garlic last Fall, add this to your list to plant this October. It is so easy, just plan for a 9 month growing season. Learn how to grow garlic.

When and how to harvest broccoli

You have worked too hard to grow that large, delicate broccoli plant, to miss the perfect time to harvest. I always debate whether or not to grow broccoli because it takes up so much space for just one plant. But, in the end, I love broccoli and the opportunity to watch such a large plant grow from a tiny seed.

It is very easy to miss the prime time to harvest broccoli. Here are the signs that your broccoli is ready to be harvested, in order of importance:

  1. There is a head
  2. The florets on the outside edge of the head are about the size of the head of a match DSC_0538
  3. Florets are a deep green and if there is yellow, you need to harvest immediately DSC_0535
  4. Ideally the head is 4-7 inches wide

Almost as soon as I noticed there was a head on my broccoli, the florets were starting to turn yellow. This indicates that the broccoli is starting to bloom.

Harvesting is the easy part. Using a sharp knife, cut off the head stem 4-5 inches below the head. Hopefully, you will make a clean cut and eventually get an additional harvest of smaller heads. For harvesting these side shoots, use signs 2 and 3 as a guide.

Don’t miss out on these green, hearty gems!

How to pickle radishes

It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, celebrating our wedding anniversary, enjoying a cocktail at one of the many new, trendy restaurants in Seattle. My husband decided to order Crudités – a fancy name for raw, pickled things. Okay, sounded interesting. Then I looked at the menu and learned that a plate of raw, pickled things cost $12! Whoa, really?

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Well turns out these raw, pickled veggies were really delicious and with that price tag and yummy experience, I was inspired to make my own. This plate had a wide assortment of veggies- radishes, mushrooms, carrots, turnips. I think you can pickle just about any vegetable. I started simple, radishes only.

Where to begin? There are a lot of pickling recipes with just subtle differences. I did not want to Can and decided to try two different recipes. I learned that this is about the easiest thing you can do for a high return on investment – yummy, crunchy, delicious veggies in under 10 minutes! You can even gift them! 

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I had everything in my pantry that was needed and I just had to pick the radishes out of the garden. I made The “Simplest” recipe for pickling radishes and a different one The “Honey” recipe, which is just slightly more time consuming because you have to heat up the ingredients on the stove top.

The “Simplest” recipe (makes 1 mason jar):

  • 8-10 medium radishes sliced
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

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Fill the mason jar with the sliced radishes. Whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour over the radishes. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Wa-lah!

The “Honey” recipe (makes 2 mason jars):

  • 10-12 medium radishes sliced
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoon honey
  • 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves

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Fill two mason jars with the sliced radishes and 1 garlic clove/jar. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a saucepan on low heat until honey is dissolved. Pour over the radishes. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Wa-lah!

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Which one tastes better? I think it might come down to your preference for red wine vinegar vs. apple cider vinegar. I prefer the “Simplest” recipe, but my husband thinks the “Honey” recipe is more flavorful. I would choose the recipe based on whichever ingredients you have readily available at home.

Side note: Radishes are so easy to grow! Even if you don’t have a garden, find a pot and sow the seeds. Do it now so you can enjoy these crudités before it gets to hot to grow radishes (plant the seeds before June)!

Arugula salad recipe

Spring has sprung and so have veggies in the garden! I seeded at the end of March and I am now harvesting radishes, arugula, and kale. Yum!

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The best part? Meals straight from the garden. In honor of this fresh harvest, a very simple and easy salad you can make with your arugula. I wanted to keep it light so I could still taste all the rich flavors of my very own grown crop.

Arugula, lemon, olive oil, salt, and parmesan are all you need. DSC_0412

  • Fill a bowl with Arugula
  • Drizzle olive oil (1-2 Tbsp)
  • Squeeze lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
  • Add a little salt
  • Sprinkle with parmesan
  • Mix it all up

Want to get a little crazy? Slice up some of those radishes and add to the mix.

Not sure when your arugula is ready to harvest? Find out.

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Don’t forget to treat yourself to a glass of Rose on the side!

What are you cooking up with your arugula? Please share in the Comments section.

When seeds don’t sprout

Are you one of the many that planted seeds a few weeks ago and there are no sprouts to be seen? I planted several square feet of spinach, lettuce, and swiss chard only to spot a sprouted plant every square foot.

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If this is you, do not waste any time. If several weeks have passed and only a few of the seeds have sprouted, it is time to reseed. This means that the seeds did not germinate and there are several reasons this may have occurred:

  • Seeds are expired (most seeds are best in the first 2 years)
  • Watering too much or too little
  • Planting too deep
  • Planting too early
  • Rodents or birds dug up the seeds
  • Any others you know of?

My seeds were packaged in 2016 and have never been opened. However, I planted them during a hot spell and also spotted a crow in my bed the following day. These two things may indicate that I did not water enough and the crow may have gobbled up some of my seeds. Since my seeds are brand new, I am going to give them one more try.

If your seeds haven’t sprouted, try to narrow down why this may have occurred based on reasons above. Then get out in the yard and take a second stab – either with new seeds, watering more or less, and be sure to confirm you are planting them based on the directions on the package.

Good luck!

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Gardening pitfalls

This is the time when you walk out to your garden and are surprised to find that there is a lot more growing than just the vegetables that you planted. New plants are thriving = weeds are also thriving.

2 things to do now:

  1. Weed your garden. Be sure to make room for the new plants you seeded. Eventually they will be big and mighty and take over the weeds.
  2. Thin your plants. If you planted 2 or more seeds and 2 or more plants are coming up, when the plants are a few inches high, narrow it down to 1.

Tips:

  • I planted my seeds 3 weeks ago. The arugula, peas, radishes, and kale are already large enough to thin. See in photos above.
  • If you do not know whether it is a weed or a vegetable, don’t pull it. Wait a little longer and you will be able to tell the difference.
  • Weed after it has rained or after you have watered your garden beds. It is easier to pull weeds in moist soil.

Taking the time to tend to your garden now will lead to long term success. Only a few more weeks and your garden will be flourishing. Do you have any tips for helping your vegetables to grow now?