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?  

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Garden insects – how to attract the good and reduce the bad

The garden is full of insects, which are so important. Helping to provide nutrients to the soil and pollenate the plants. We definitely want these creepy crawlers. However, there are a few that cause more harm than good. So how do we remove the insects that damage our plants and keep the ones that help to grow them?

My friend and an inspirational gardener, Tracey, has recently taken the time to learn more about garden pest control. She even built a bug hotel! She was generous enough to share some of her learnings (and awesome pics of her garden) with me, check them out.

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Megan: There are so many creepy crawlers in my garden, which ones are helping the garden?

Tracey: OK so I am so passionate about this… Where to start. There are so many beneficial insects. For every bad bug, there is a good bug waiting to help you.

Ladybugs are my fav. We release thousands every year – the trick is to get them to multiply in your garden. The babies are the ones who are the little assassins. They can eat up to 5000 aphids and soft bodies’ pests in their short life time.

I’ve also experimented a lot with Praying mantises, they feed on pests as well, but can also eat your beneficial insects so I’ve given them a rest.

Wasps – I have always had a fear of wasps, until recently! I LOVE beets, plant them ever year as much and often as I can. I started to get Leaf Miners. They are the larva of a nasty fly that lays its eggs on the underside of leaves of beets, spinach, and other veggies. The larva then feed on the leaf creating little tunnels that can destroy your crops. Paper wasps will literally rip the leaf open and grab the larva and bon appetite! They will also hunt caterpillars including corn ear worms, loopers, and cabbage worms. I love watching them eat!

Bees – super pollinators. I have several mason bee houses and am looking at getting a honey bee colony. The best pollinators around. Below is a Coneflower tucked between squash to attract pollinators.

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Lacewings – also eat insects and are great pollinators.

Megan: As a gardener that does not use chemicals for pest control, how do I get the pests under control?

Tracey: Well the best way I’ve found is to create a habitat that encourages beneficial insects to thrive. If they are there, they will help keep the bad guys in check. I have had a hard time finding any cabbage worms on my brussels sprouts this year, but I see tons of wasps around, so I know the wasps are doing their job!

Megan: How do I attract the good bugs?

Tracey: Bug Hotels! Create areas that they can live and find protection. I also like to leave old dead foliage and branches on the ground over winter. Critters can live underneath and get cozy.

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Megan: What else should we know about garden insects?

Tracey: I think that the more you learn about beneficial insects and what they can do for your garden, the more you will want to invite them in! I think right now one of the most important messages I have is to NOT use pesticides. You’re not just killing the bad guys, you’re killing the good guys too!

“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity.
The garden is about life and beauty and the impermanence of all living things.
The garden is about feeding your children, providing food for the tribe.
It’s part of an urgent territorial drive that we can probably trace back to animals storing food.
It’s a competitive display mechanism, like having a prize bull, this greed for the best tomatoes and English tea roses.
It’s about winning; about providing society with superior things; and about proving that you have taste, and good values, and you work hard.
And what a wonderful relief, every so often, to know who the enemy is.
Because in the garden, the enemy is everything: the aphids, the weather, time.
And so you pour yourself into it, care so much, and see up close so much birth, and growth, and beauty, and danger, and triumph.
And then everything dies anyway, right?
But you just keep doing it.”

-Ann Lamott

Thank you Tracey! 

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You want to be healthy? Try gardening.

I know this is a bold statement, but growing your own food actually makes you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally healthier. More alive. Fulfilled. And grounded. I promise I am not making this up.

We live in a time and place where everyone is BUSY. There is so much noise in our lives. There is enough work to always be connected, lots of social media to be glued to your phone all day every day, and then there is the rest of our lives. It can get really congested super fast, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, empty, and exhausted.

I used to commute every day on the bus to my 9-5 downtown. I would immediately connect on my phone when I got on the bus, spend all day in meetings, attempting to answer emails while sitting in them, and then reconnect on my bus ride home. By the time I entered the house, I had been inundated with screens, lots of data – some important, some that just filled my brain with too much white noise, and I hadn’t spent a minute just “being present” or taking in my surroundings. I was tired and felt disconnected from my real life.

Everyone talks about being present and living in the now. Spending hours “pinning” inspirational quotes about being more creative, working less, getting healthier, living life to the fullest, and taking chances. I am definitely that person. I could pin as many inspirational posts as I wanted to, but it wasn’t until I actually stepped away from the noise that I truly started to become more creative, get healthier, and felt like I was really living, all by taking the chance and time to grow my own food. Get my hands dirty.  

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Suddenly I was making time before and after work to get outside, take in the fresh air, and root myself in the earth. Believe it or not, this extra time each day pulling weeds, picking berries, cutting greens for my lunch salad, grabbing a few zucchinis to share with co-workers, filled my mind with joy, made me think more creatively, and actually helped me to be a healthier person physically and mentally. I don’t have my phone with me when I am in the garden. I am completely and totally present in the moment. Even better, I actually see results from my hard work. 

When you grow food, you think in an entirely new way about food. For years I struggled with food and my body. Always trying new diets and never loving the way I looked. When I started growing food, watching it from seed to sprout, harvesting it and making something delicious with it, I viewed it as nourishing, wholesome, and literally felt better in my body after eating it. Before I knew it, I was snacking on green beans, and carrots, and savoring fresh raspberries for dessert (with ice cream of course). I began to love cooking, which triggered a whole new hobby. And now, for the first time, I feel so mentally healthy in my relationship with food and truly appreciate and value my body. I am stronger from working in the garden and I am happy because I give my body good fuel to have more energy and good health for myself and my family. 

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I know I am making all of this sound really easy. The cool thing, it is. There are always excuses – I don’t have a yard, I don’t have a green thumb, I don’t have space. Good news – you don’t have to have any of those things to grow something. Yes, you do need sun and water. So if you have those two things, then buy a container and fill it with a few seeds of your favorite vegetable or herb. Grab another one for fresh flowers. Start here. If you need help, ask me or a friend. And for all you parents, there is nothing cooler than seeing your kids learn through the garden – touching, tasting, and even growing their own veggies, but that is a post for another day.

So take a small chance and try to grow something. I promise you will feel more present, happier, more inspired to cook and eat real, good food, and a little more rooted in the earth you live on. Take a break from the noise, and enjoy the peaceful moments of living outside. Remember to stop and smell the roses, literally.

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How to use zucchini

It is that time of year and the zucchini is flowing. Do you have a basket full of this bumper crop? Tired of the same old zucchini bread? I think it is time for some inspiration!

Check out my top 3 zucchini recipes, made easy.

#1 Zucchini Ribbons with Almond Pesto from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

This is a new family favorite – delish and takes 10 minutes to make. No cooking required. Plus, there is a chance you have all these ingredients sitting in your kitchen right now. DSC_0019

Ingredients
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and cooled – I just bought roasted almonds
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed – I added a few more
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds medium zucchini, trimmed (about 4 medium, thin and longer if you can find them) – I just used a 10″ zucchini
*I added tomatoes because I have a bunch ready to harvest!

Directions 
Grind almonds, Parmesan, garlic and red pepper flakes in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Add the lemon juice, salt and olive oil and pulse a few times until incorporated.

Peel the zucchini with a vegetable peeler and place zucchini ribbons in the dressing-coated bowl. Toss the ribbons gently (your hands work best) attempting to coat the zucchini as evenly as possible. Serve at room temperature.

#2 Zucchini + Egg Muffins from the Simply Real Health Cookbook 

Perfect for entertaining or grabbing breakfast while you run out the door! A great dose of protein and veggies. And once again, you may already have all these ingredients in your kitchen. DSC_0019

Ingredients
10 organic cage-free eggs
1 zucchini, grated or shredded with excess moisture squeezed out (use a paper towel)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup goat cheese, grated parmesan, or other artisan cheese of your choice (optional)
1 tablespoon freshly chopped herbs – I used chives, basil, and parsley straight from the backyard
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Line a muffin tin with baking cups or grease the pan.

In a bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Pour batter into muffin tins and bake until cooked through for approximately 20 minutes. Broil for the last minute to get a nice brown crust.

#3 Greek Yogurt Zucchini Bread from Sally’s Baking Addiction

I know, I said “the same old zucchini bread recipe”, BUT this is definitely NOT the same old zucchini bread recipe.

It is flavorful (can anyone say orange zest?), moist (greek yogurt to the rescue), and healthy (at least I feel no shame enjoying a couple of slices of this deliciousness).

Check out the recipe here.

A few notes:

  • I highly recommend adding the walnuts and raisins. If you have a sweet tooth, add dark chocolate chips.
  • I did not have agave on hand, so I used 1/2 cup sugar.
  • I used coconut oil and it was perfect.
  • Definitely add the orange zest and don’t be afraid to pile it on.
  • I baked two loaves for 40 minutes on convection bake and they turned out just right.

Go get those zukes out of the garden or gladly accept one offered to you and enjoy every bite.

Extra! Just before sitting down to write this blog post, a friend sent me an email with a bunch of tips and ideas for using zucchini. I guess this is top of mind for everyone?! Check out these helpful articles:

How to turn 11 Zucchini into a Week of Meals 
Put That Cucumber Down – Pickle This Instead 
The Most Flavorful Zucchini is Also the Simplest Make-Ahead Side 

What are you making with your zukes?

 

August garden to-do list

As we wrap up the month of July, there is limited time to plant seeds for a Fall harvest. I am quickly taking inventory of my garden and making a to-do list for this final week of July and early August to ensure that I make the most of this precious dirt.

This weekend, strap on those gloves and do this:

  • Clear out any remaining crops that are harvested, dead, or no longer producing food you want to eat. For me, this will be broccoli, spring kale, and spring carrots.
  • Plant seeds for harvest in Fall (September and October). My favorites: carrots, radishes, salad greens, kale, turnips, lettuce, spinach, arugula, beets, swiss chard, cilantro, bok choy, and broccoli (best as transplant).
  • Weed, with lots of sunshine and hopefully lots of watering, weeds are bursting. Keep your garden clear of weeds to make room for these new sprouts.
  • Thin your new sprouts (hopefully you already put some seeds in the ground earlier this month, if not, there is still time). DSC_0015
  • Fertilize if necessary (it is a good idea to fertilize your new beet sprouts).
  • WATER
  • HARVEST! My carrots, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash are growing like crazy. Don’t miss their peek times for picking and enjoy those fresh summer flavors.DSC_0790
  • Tend to your tomato plants. Prune if necessary and harvest.
  • Extra: start thinking about flowers you want next spring/summer. You will want to buy bulbs to get into the ground in September/ October. DSC_0002

You will not regret dedicating this time to the garden when you have fresh veggies into the Fall!

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)!