Discovering Wild Blueberries

Summer in Maine would not be complete without wild blueberries! Many of us grew up reading Robert McCloskey’s book Blueberries for Sal. We can still hear our mothers reading the words, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.” That’s supposed to be the sound of Sal’s mother dropping plump, ripe blueberries into her metal pail. That’s right before they run into mama bear and baby bear! After picking enough berries, they head back to the house to can the sweet berries for the upcoming winter. I’m sure if you’re a fan of the book, eating wild Maine blueberries triggers these fond memories from the story!

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Much of coastal Maine is covered with large shafts of blueberry land. Many people of a certain age in Maine have raked blueberries for a summer job. Whether it was supplementing the family income, for buying badly needed school clothes or getting just enough money to go to the fair, the blueberry industry has supported countless Maine families. Starting in late July, the blueberry season stretches through the month of August. Over 44,000 acres of blueberry land are farmed annually in Maine contributing millions of dollars to the local economy.

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Wild blueberries against the ledge rock.

Although they are referred to as wild, if left unattended, these precious plants would probably be engulfed by small trees only to turn into a forest. Care must be taken to ensure a decent harvest. Burning or mowing the blueberry fields is a great way to keep unwanted weeds from growing in. Berries have a two year cycle. Pruned fields will not produce until the following year. Some farms have half of their land in production each year. In our area, spraying blueberries for blueberry maggots is still common but more farms have been going organic in recent years. Hand raking has also becoming rare. Blueberry raking used to be a great job for teens but a lot of growers have gone to mechanical raking for efficiency. Many a young person has stood by a blueberry winnowing machine for hours picking out unacceptable berries, leaves and stems.

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Maine wild blueberries!

Wild blueberries have long been a Maine food source but they were not picked commercially until the 1840’s. The low-bush variety (vaccinium augustifolium) grows well in Maine’s naturally acidic soil. They can survive harsh winter conditions and offer year round beauty. From their white blossoms in late spring to their flaming red foliage in fall, blueberry fields are a feast for the eyes as well. High-bush berries also grow throughout Maine and abroad but prefer marshy, wet areas. The fruit can be slightly bigger and the flavor is comparable.

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Sweet, delicious berries.

Benefits From Blueberries 

It’s no secret that blueberries are are excellent for your health. They often show up in the category of ‘super food’ and are rich in antioxidants. According to Wild Blueberries, wild berries have 2x the antioxidant power of ordinary cultivated berries. So, pour on the blueberries when you get the chance!

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Low-bush berries.

Uses for Blueberries 

It probably goes without saying that there are endless uses for blueberries and they are only limited to the imagination. Blueberries can be sprinkled on pancakes, mixed into waffles or added to buttery muffins. Blueberry pies, crisps and rich coffee cakes are a huge hit around here. Dried blueberries can be put into granola or trail mix. Frozen blueberries give summer flavor to oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt during the winter. Blueberries can even be used in savory applications such as sauces and dressings. Personally, I think eating them on cereal or by the handful is my favorite. The flavor of wild blueberries far surpasses that of commercial berries in most Mainer’s opinions!

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Blueberry muffins!

If you have wild blueberries in your area, try to get some while you can! You’ll see how sweet they really are. The berries are very easy to freeze. Just place them in freezer bags, seal and lay flat in your freezer. Some prefer to freeze them on cookie sheets in a single layer to prevent clumping. If you are like Sal’s mother from the story, you might feel like canning them or making a few batches of jam. Whichever way you use them, take advantage of the season while it lasts! Many farms are taking orders for 10 lbs. or more. Some will even ship to your door. It’s hard to find a place to pick these days because most of the blueberry land is for commercial use. If you haven’t experienced wild blueberries yet, get out and get some while they last.

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Fresh blueberries!

All of the gardens here have been suffering from the lack of rain. At the same time, the beans are wanting to be picked every other day and the cherry tomatoes are beginning to get their color. I hope that you get to experience wild blueberries in your area. They really are a highlight of the summer season here. So if you will excuse me, I think I need to go make some pie now!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

What Your Garden Needs Right Now!

Although around here it seems like summer has just barely started, the growing season Maine is about half over. Most of us have people coming and going, summer trips to go on and all of the other obligations that we already have. On top of that, you planted a garden with big hopes and dreams of fabulous harvests. So, with that being said, what does your garden need right now for success?

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Be Mindful of Watering

Probably most of us want to be conservative with water. Whenever I wash salad greens I quickly bring the wash water out to water something. Does anyone else do stuff like this? It seems like they keep forecasting rain but we don’t really get anything. A good soaking can do wonders for a struggling garden.

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Thirsty hydrangeas!

My peas will be done soon but I’ve been keeping them hydrated so they can produce as long as possible. Any new garden plantings will need to be watered until they become established. We expanded a few areas this year and the few perennials we planted have needed daily watering. Of course, I would love to depend on regular rainfall to do the work for me but you can’t always rely on the weather.

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A split valve.

We have been using soaker hoses in our gardens that are furthest from the house. This has proved to be a real time-saver and they are really efficient if positioned properly. We simply run a long hose that goes by each garden. A split valve allows a soaker hose to come off at each garden and then ends up at the greenhouse. The greenhouse houses most of our tomatoes and the climbing cucumbers. Watering in the early morning allows the garden to dry out during the day. This way, the plants don’t sit in water all night. With tomato blight being an issue here, drier conditions are better. Removing the lower leaves of the tomato plants is helpful for keeping the plants disease free.

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Soaker hoses can be real timesavers!

Thin Garden Seedlings 

It might be time to thin carrots, beets or anything else that’s crowded. Carrots may need an inch or more between them for maximum growth. Beets need many inches to reach their full potential for fall harvest. Turnips, parsnips, onions…just do an inspection and see what needs attention.

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Overcrowded turnips.

Feed Your Plants

Even if your soil is top-notch, a boost of nutrients never hurts. I usually make up a bunch of fish emulsion fertilizer to feed my garden. You could also make a batch of worm casting or manure tea. Whatever you choose to use, a shot of fertilizer here and there may be just what your garden needs to get it through the rest of the summer.

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A little fertilizer!

Our garlic is nearly ready for harvest. Last week I gave it a nice drink of fish emulsion for the final week or two before we pull them up. There’s nothing like pulling up those fat garlic bulbs!

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Garlic likes a little shot of fertilizer.

When annual flowers are tended at a commercial greenhouse, they are usually given daily doses of fertilizer. After a while in your own garden, they may go through withdrawal from lack of nutrients. Next time you water, give them a feeding. This will help with continuous blooming for the rest of the season.

Garden Maintenance 

Weeds can quickly choke out crops, so pay attention to any weed situations. It can be difficult to pull tiny weeds. Sometimes I leave them till they are a bit bigger so that I have something to pull. A garden claw or collinear hoe can be very helpful. If weeding is not an option for you, consider mulching weeds with grass clippings, hay or newspaper.

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Pullin’ weeds…

Some early crops may need to be pulled. This makes room for fall planting. Succession Planting can really extend your garden harvest. Plants such as tomatoes may need staking or pruning. Climbing veggies such as beans or cukes can be repositioned for better growth.

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Pinching tomato suckers!

Flower beds can be spruced up too. Peonies and iris can have their stems trimmed. Anything that looks sprawling and ugly can be tidied up. You can find more tips in my article Late Summer Flower Bed Care. Dead-heading plants can keep them looking spiffy. A quick weeding in the front of a bed can make all the difference.

Harvest Time

Many herbs and other crops may need harvesting. Things don’t hang on forever, so grab them while they are at their peak. Basil and parsley keep on producing as long as you keep harvesting. Peas need to be picked or they will grow too large and bitter.

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Borage!

These are just a few helpful tips to keep your garden going through the heat, drought or any other situations that might come up. There seems to be a bit of a lull right now in my garden. The salad greens have been slowing down. Some crops are stunted this year, possibly due to the slow start to summer. Soon we will be overrun by tomatoes and hopefully many zucchini. Always something to look forward too! What’s going on in your garden? I would love to hear from you. Give me a shout in the comment section. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any upcoming posts. I will be writing about local produce and other seasonal topics soon! Thanks for joining me this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Rudbeckia.
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Day lilies!

 

Gardening With Kids

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.”~Robert Brault.

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One of my earliest gardening memories is standing barefoot in the soft dirt of my neighbors vegetable garden. We were picking carrots for canning. I remember picking potatoes bugs with a childhood friend. My grandmother always had garden chores for me to do. All these little things contributed to my love of gardening. The thrill of watching things grow! Where am I going with this? Never underestimate how much gardening will effect a child. When I say  gardening with ‘kids’, I don’t mean baby goats, I mean children, young people, tiny humans! Those little people that mean so much to us.

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Kids love to plant!

Why Garden With Kids?

Kids ask a lot of questions. Hundreds a day in fact. As I think about the opening quote, I realize that my son doesn’t really ask much about gardening. He’s learned so much already. Since he was a newborn, he’s been in a carrier or in the stroller watching me work. As soon as he could, he was digging in the dirt. The beauty of sharing gardening with children is that they get to see first hand how things grow. They don’t need to ask where carrots come from or how they grow. They even know that all food doesn’t have to come from the grocery store. It can come from their own garden, a neighbors garden or a local farm.

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Planting peas is always a fun spring activity!

What to Grow With Kids

Young ones can help with growing nearly anything but some things are easier to do than others. When planting, the bigger the seeds the better. This way little hands can grasp the seeds. Peas and beans are a great start. Pumpkins, cukes and zucchini are all easy to grasp and push into the ground. Potatoes have been one of the favorites around here to plant and to dig up. Radishes and carrots are exciting to harvest. When choosing your vegetable varieties, why not appeal to the eye with bizarre colors and shapes. Purple string beans, pink and white radishes or rainbow carrots!

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Picking small fruits.

Gardening doesn’t have to be limited to veggies. There’s nothing like that first strawberry, raspberry or blueberry! Start a strawberry or raspberry patch. They may not make it to the house but little fingers love plucking berries. Another idea is growing flowers. Try a few bold choices such as sunflowers, gladiolus or marigolds. You could even designate a garden just for them.

Peas on the vine.

Gardening Chores

Not all things grow well after they’ve been dug up and replanted. Not all things like to be run over with a dump truck. For several years now I’ve utilized fencing for our gardens. Some things just can’t be disturbed. On the other hand, there’s lots of things for kids to do. Give them a watering can, they’ll water everything! Have your little one pick beans, cherry tomatoes or peas.

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Watering.

We have acquired an assortment of child sized tools. Not only are they easy to work with, it really makes them feel a part of things. No matter what task is at hand, he can go grab a trowel, a leaf rake or a hoe. These pint sized tools are even great for adults when cleaning out tight spaces. We’ve even found gardening gloves in tiny sizes.

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Kids gardening tools.

Have Fun!

There are so many ideas out there for gardening with kids. Try growing a bean teepee. Grow a whimsical sunflower house or start a miniature garden. Many of our summer and fall activities are agriculturally based. Strawberry picking, hayrides, corn mazes and apple picking. Take these opportunities to educated them about food and growing. Talk about bugs and worms. Most of all, have fun when gardening with children. Take the opportunity to teach. Use these moments to explain things. Even if they never grow up to garden, the skills that you share can last a lifetime. If you don’t have children of your own, garden with the kids in your life. Nieces, nephews, grandchildren, friends or neighbors. It’s a great way to spend time with them.

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There are surprises along the way!

Introducing them to gardening at a young age can get them interested in trying new things. I had a dear young friend of mine who used to help me harvest lettuce. He needed to try every single kind. He even liked the spicy ones. Even though he’s almost grown now, I’d like to think that those memories will stay with him. My son doesn’t like to try things but he calls out flower names as we drive through town. He describes them as ‘gorgeous or beautiful’! I’m thrilled to instill a love of gardening in him!

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Stop to smell the flowers!

In our garden, the peas are plumping up. Cherry tomatoes have set their fruit and the lettuce is still coming. The peonies have been in full bloom and the roses are flourishing in the warmer weather. Booming thunder showers have helped with the watering. The nearby fields have been hayed and the corn fields are starting to get knee high! If you have some kids around you, get them out in the garden. So much awaits you! Thank you for your interest in Everlongardener this week and don’t forget to subscribe for seasonal gardening posts!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Salvia in bloom.
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Dogwood in the morning light!

How To Avoid Garden Overwhelm

I’ve talked with several friends this spring about their gardens and many of them are feeling overwhelmed. Life is really busy…

I’ve talked with several friends this spring about their gardens and many of them are feeling overwhelmed. Life is really busy for most of us these days. Ticks and other biting insects keep us indoors. The somewhat dismal spring weather we’ve had has weeds flourishing and seeds rotting in the ground. With all of these factors working against us, how can we avoid garden overwhelm?

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Life throws us countless curve balls. By missing a week or two in your garden, things can really go downhill fast. When you finally get out to the garden, it’s hard to avoid garden overwhelm. Unless your vegetable or flower beds are completely carefree, they do need weekly attention.

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A weedy spot in our garden.

Don’t Take On Too Much

When spring finally hits we can feel unstoppable. When drawing up a garden plan it’s easy to plan way too much. When I look through seed catalogs, I circle everything that catches my eye. I reason that I have plenty of space for this or that. I know what you’re thinking. You don’t just want peas, you want green and purple podded ones. You want 4 kinds of garlic and 28 tomato plants of different varieties. The struggle is real! It’s just not possible for every gardener to grow everything. Another consideration is harvest time. If you don’t have enough time to deal with crates of tomatoes and 100 radishes all at once, plant fewer plants. You could even try planting several different types with different maturity rates.

So many things to do…

A trip to the nursery is no better. I may start out with a list but then my eyes hit those colorful seed packets and fresh, young seedlings stretching out on tables before me as far as the eye can see. You go in for a few basic things and end up with a carload. Just planting may cause overwhelm.

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Seed packets.

So, what can be done to eliminate garden overwhelm? Make a list and stick to it. Leave a little bit of room to possibly try something new. This year, I purchased a few geraniums for the porch and some annuals for the shed window boxes. Other years, I’ve tried to cram flowers in so many pots here and there. Then, I find I have little time to water them. It can be hard when you are staring at endless lines of hanging baskets that are just gushing with flowers. Ask yourself, will I have time to water and deadhead them? Why not choose a few high impact plants rather than many smaller ones? If you’ve been reading Everlongardener for any amount of time, you are familiar with the many ideas I’ve shared for simplifying your garden.

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Zucchini are finally up!

Check Your Garden Daily 

I know that this may sound like a lot, but checking on your garden daily can head off future problems. Just taking your morning tea or coffee out to the garden can be a refreshing experience. Try an after work detox by strolling through the garden. Maybe some post-dinner weeding during the cooler part of the day. This way you can see what needs water, check if any pests are eating leaves or you might notice that a certain weed is taking over your carrots. A few minutes a day may not even feel like work. Make sure that when you pull those weeds you get the root. This means it will take longer for them to come back!

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There’s always something to weed!

When harvest time comes, if you neglect checking on the garden, you may even miss the harvest completely. Imagine if you didn’t look over your cucumber or zucchini plants for a week! The harvest would completely get away from you.

Mustard greens going by.

It’s better to do a few things well than to do many things haphazardly. Focus on a few things if you are strapped for time. I made a few simple suggestions in 5 Easy Vegetables For The Beginner Gardener. If you can’t pull off having a vegetable garden every single year, consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Members pay a local farm for a weekly share of fresh produce. This gives the farm spring capital and provides the customer with plenty of weekly vegetables. I have a friend who wondered why she was growing lettuce when the farm down the road sells a head for $1.50. She has a point. Another option is to make a weekly trip to your local farmers market. Anyway that you choose, eating local, consciously grown food is one of the joys of summer!

We joined two of the garden beds last week.

Amid all that spring entails and the speed with which summer passes by, try to get out while the weather is warm. Garden if you can and if it makes you happy. Just don’t get overwhelmed. Hope you liked seeing some of my weeds this week! We’ve been picking away at one project at a time around here. Many other things are going on. We are now in for some gorgeous Summer days in mid-coast Maine. Here are a few shots from the garden. Thanks for checking out Everlongardener this week and don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Second round of basil, hope it makes it!
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A few strawberries!
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Peonies are opening!

From my garden to yours, over and out!

Grow a Reliable Crop of Mizuna Mustard Greens

One thing about being a gardener is the opportunity of trying new veggies and interesting varieties. It’s fun, delicious and colorful to plant different things every year. From the Brassica family of Asian greens or mustard greens, comes mizuna. If you want to add color and mustard flavor to your table, add mizuna to your planting list!

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I’ve grown many types of mustard greens over the years and I really do love them all. One drawback to growing them is that they do suffer from insect damage. After a while I realized that the mizuna, particularly in shades of red, are unharmed by flea beetles or aphids. Sometimes referred to Japanese mustard greens or spider mustard, these greens are great in salads or sandwiches and you can use the more mature leaves in cooking if you like. Just treat it like spinach.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

My favorite variety of red Mizuna is ‘Ruby Streaks’. It’s lacey leaves have greenish undersides with burgundy red streaks stretching across the top. Mizuna is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. This type is widely available from most seed suppliers. Other types that may appeal to you include ‘Red Splendor’, ‘Early Mizuna’ or ‘Scarlet Frills’. One review from Baker Creek Seeds describes it as being the “easiest green to grow for my tough soil/weather conditions, including shameful neglect. Grows all seasons for me (and holds in most winters) without any problems.” Sounds like a winner! I’m sure we can all relate to that part about neglect.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard.

What can you expect for flavor? Well, as the name mustard greens denotes, these greens have a very mustard essence about them. ‘Ruby Streaks’ has a surprisingly sweet, hot flavor. The hotness is not overpowering though and you can still taste the flavor of the greens. Each nutrient packed variety of mustard greens that you choose to grow will have it’s own unique flavors and qualities.

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Mizuna leaves add so much to a salad!

Mizuna can easily be used for microgreens. In the garden, plant in spring through fall for a summer full of mustard flavor. Mizuna only takes 21 days for baby greens to mature and 40 days for adult leaves. Even if warm temperatures cause mizuna to bolt, continue to harvest it’s leaves as long as you like the flavor. Their pretty yellow flowers are edible too. With small sprigs of mizuna sprinkled through a salad, the mustard taste will add quite a zesty pop! Because of it’s long growing season, mizuna could quickly become one of your 4 season favorites! Mizuna is a hardy addition to a fall planted garden and will readily self-seed if allowed.

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The small flowers of mizuna.

What are some of the unique crops that you love to grow? Speckled beans, purple podded peas? Of course, most of us can’t grow everything but it keeps things fresh when we try new colors and flavors. With these hot days this week the garden has really shot up. Beans are continuing to poke through the ground, the peas are reaching for the sky and the irises are blooming like crazy! Along with the warmth, the evening mosquitoes are attempting to carry us away! I’m leaving you with a few garden pics of what’s going on here. Have a great week out there!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Peonies in bud!
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The bees are crazy for the rhododendrons.
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Iris in the evening light.

How to Create the Perfect Salad Garden

If you have just a small space for a garden, why not try growing a salad garden. It is one of the best ways to utilize a tiny space. Short on time this summer? A salad garden can be the perfect solution to a busy schedule! Downsizing your garden? Just starting out? Low maintenance and with very little commitment, a salad garden may be all that you need!

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First of all, what is a salad garden? Growing salad greens? No, not just salad greens. A true salad garden uses a small space to grow all of the components of a salad. Each salad garden can be tailored to individual tastes and needs. This will give you the most crop variety using a very limited size garden. Many of these veggies take up very little space compared to beans or squash for instance.

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Several types of tomatoes!

What to Grow

The foundation of any salad would of course be the greens. Do you like spinach? Adore arugula? Head lettuce or loose leaf? Lettuce mixes may be a great place to start. A variety of colors and flavors to brighten your plate. Baby chard or beet greens can add color and flavor. Kale is another great green to put in a salad garden. Try growing 2-3 rows of various greens. Look for some heat tolerant greens for mid-summer harvests. I use ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.

Kale is a delicious green for the salad mix!

A few cherry or grape tomato plants will provide your table with a continuous harvest once they start producing. Plant a few slicing tomatoes if you have space. You will probably end up with more than enough tomatoes. These fruits are known for their intensely sweet flavor from ripening in the sun. Sometimes they don’t even make it back to the house! For a smaller garden, choose 2 plants and for a larger space try 4 plants.

A bountiful harvest.

Radishes are among the quickest crops to grow in the salad garden. Spring and fall are the best times to grow radishes. They prefer cool temperatures. Their tiny seeds can be sown in between rows of carrots or lettuce. Choose radishes that are mild or spicy hot! Radish varieties like ‘French Breakfast’ and ‘Cherry Belle’ mature in as few as 25 days. That’s less that a month away from garden goodness! If you plant a few seeds every 2 weeks, you will have a continuous harvest instead of them ripening all at once.

 

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Radishes are great addition to the salad garden.

Growing a few rows of short season carrots can make a big splash in your salad bowl. Homegrown carrots have a flavor that can’t be beat. Use smaller carrots as you thin them. A quick growing type like ‘Mokum’ takes a mere 48 days to reach 5-6″ long. Grow purple, white or yellow carrots for a color show that your won’t believe.

Colorful carrots in a salad!

Get it on Paper

Measure out the area that you can use for your salad garden. Do you have room for a 3×6, a 6×6, 5×8 or maybe a more ambitious 12×5 plot? Even the smallest choice will provide a weekly harvest from the garden. Draw your space on paper to see how you will arrange it. Taller plants such as tomatoes should be in the back of the garden. A larger garden could include small amounts of chard, broccoli, peas, peppers and beet greens. Try mixing in herbs such as basil, dill or parsley for adding to salad or for cooking. Scallions or chives can be great for flavoring too! What would your perfect salad garden include?

A variety of seeds!

When you’ve decided where and what you want to plant in your salad garden, prepare the ground. If the soil needs amendments, add a few inches of compost. Plant directly into the soil. Some organic granular fertilizer can also give the salad patch a boost. For some tips on how to start from scratch, check out the article How To Start A New Garden.

Succession Planting

By leaving some space at planting time, you will be able to sow more seed for carrots, greens or radishes every few weeks. This means that you will save some of your seeds for later. As some crops go by, the new ones will be maturing. Succession Planting ensures continual salad garden success throughout the gardening season.

Tender fresh greens!

A wonderful salad garden could easily be modified for container or deck planting. If you have very little land or are an apartment dweller, salad gardening may be for you! If a large vegetable garden seems totally out of reach, why not grow a salad garden this year? It’s not too late to put the perfect salad garden in!

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Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

I’ve been itching to get back in the garden! June is upon us! Hopefully this dreary, damp weather moves along for good! It was so good to feel the warm sun on my back yesterday! Most of the veggies are up in my garden. I still have a few things to plant. More carrots, maybe more salad greens, the rest of the onions and scallions. This weather has been great for growing weeds. Some of my wilder garden spots need attention. What’s up in your garden so far? I would love to hear from you! I very much appreciate you stopping by to read Everlongardener this week. With some warm, sunny days coming, try to get out and soak up some sun!

Hilary|Everlongardener

4 Season Salad Gardening, What to Expect

Most of you know by now that here at Everlongardener, salad greens make the world go round. About ten years ago I was introduced to growing salad greens year round in an unheated greenhouse. Well, as they say, the rest is history. Some of you may be hesitant to try 4 season salad gardening. In this weeks blog, I will tell you exactly what to expect if you give these techniques a try.

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Although I call myself the Self Proclaimed Salad Green Queen, I’m not growing this fabulous stuff to feed the masses, I just happen to have salad greens growing throughout the whole year. For some of you in southern climates this may seem hard to believe. Gardening on the colder side of the calendar goes back a few hundred years so it’s not a new concept.

What To Do

By planting cold tolerant lettuce, kale, arugula and spinach seeds in late summer and early fall, plants can become established enough to survive even a harsh winter. This past year, I didn’t get most of my seeds in the ground until nearly October. They grew, but it was slow going. To ensure success, seeds should be planted when it’s still somewhat warm out.

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‘Ruby Streaks’ mustard.

Protection from the elements is key for salad green success. If you have access to a greenhouse or hoophouse, you are in business. But what if that is totally out of reach for you? Are there any alternatives? A cold frame or basic hoop will do. For a cold frame, simply sow seeds in the existing soil. If you plan to construct your own small hoop, plant your seeds directly into the garden.

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Lettuce picking in spring!

Your Structure

To make your own mini hoop, you will need some 6 mil plastic, something to make the  hoops from and a few heavy objects like rocks, bricks or small bags of sand. There are many videos out there on constructing a quick hoop. Just search using the phrase ‘quick hoop videos’for many different ideas. We use our 12×20 greenhouse but also utilize one outdoor raised bed. Since lettuce bolts quicker in spring in the permanent greenhouse, we supplement with the outdoor bed. The past few years we have used a structure made from scrap lumber and plastic. Next year, we hope to make a cover that can be easily moved from bed to bed. A design is in the works!

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Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.

Of course, this homemade greenhouse isn’t very attractive but it works really well. As cooler weather approaches, a second layer of insulation is needed. The insulation must be suspended over the salad greens. Use thin metal hoops or even half of a hula hoop will work. Just push each end into the soil and you are ready for the covering. The best product is floating row cover. This fabric is breathable and allows moisture in. It is also self-venting, which is handy.

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Floating row cover suspended over greens.

This is a photo of my raised bed garden under the plastic. It’s amazing how well protected the greens really are through the winter. This system creates a zone within a zone. Very simple but highly effective. Mice and other rodents can be a problem. They will search for food anywhere they can find it in the winter. I keep traps set under the row covers. They especially seem to like spinach! Good taste I guess.

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Salad harvest in the snow!

What Happens Under the Hoop

Moisture is another factor. Sometimes, even with a cover, a bed can become too dry or too moist. For dry conditions, you can water on a warm day or as with my greenhouse, I shovel some snow onto the stone floor. As it evaporates, the snow adds to the overall moisture level of the greenhouse. When conditions are too moist, simply vent the structure on a day where temps are above freezing.

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Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

There are times during the winter that I just let things go. I usually take a break from harvesting greens in January and start again in late February. If I had enough planted, I could harvest through those colder months but I just let things rest. The sun is so low at that time, greens will cease to grow. If you pick it all, it will not start growing until the sun gets higher in the sky. This past winter, my young plants were quite small so I let them be.

So, what happens when the days start to get longer? Growth starts to slowly happen. In late February, I can pick a small bowl and by mid March twice as much. By April, we are back in full swing and I can pick one or two large bowls a week. These wintered greens have such delicious flavors that I have become a salad snob of sorts. There is something about the weather that makes the greens so tasty and sweet!

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‘Black Seeded Simpson’ lettuce.

Cost

It would be hard to really break down the exact cost of winter salad growing. Seeds will cost $1-4 per packet. Multiply that by how many types and varieties you want to grow. Plastic can be free or cost around $10. Check with your local hardware store or greenhouse for scraps. Real greenhouse plastic is very durable but costly. The floating row cover fabric is about $12 per package. After cutting, you can cover many beds from one package. As for your structure, you can make one for free, like the one pictured above or you could purchase a greenhouse kit. Just make sure that whatever you make can withstand a snow load. My large greenhouse was given to me so all I needed to purchase was the plastic. I’ve had the same plastic on the greenhouse since 2009. Not too bad. If you consider store bought salad greens are priced from $3 for conventional greens to $5 or more for organically grown, you will quickly recoup your supply costs.

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This weeks harvest! Probably a half of a pound of high quality greens!

For the last month or so, we have been harvesting two bowls of salad greens per week. It happens to be some of the best salad I have ever eaten. Even though things are booming in the salad garden right now, I know that summer heat is on it’s way and it will soon squelch my delicious greens. I’m usually able to pick until July from the winter greens. The summer, heat tolerant varieties have been sown in between the rows of winter lettuce now. With Succession Planting, we can ensure continual harvests for the whole summer.

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Baby lettuce coming up between the rows of winter lettuce.

I’m so glad that I’ve been able to share the ins and outs of 4 season salad gardening this week. Winter salad production is at the core of my gardening life. If you are interested in more in-depth reading on 4 season growing, check out my inspiration Eliot Coleman and his book The Winter Harvest Handbook. My latest favorite book is called Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. If you truly want to immerse yourself into winter salad production, check out these fine publications. Feeding your family from your own garden is one of the most satisfying things! Thanks for stopping by this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

5 Early Spring Blooming Perennials

The month of May brings a flurry of color to the garden. The first snowdrops, the patches of blue scilla, then the daffodils and tulips start to open. Thrilling and fleeting, spring bursts with color. On the heels of the spring bulbs comes the earliest of the spring blooming perennials. Here are 5 easy spring perennials perfect for any garden!

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Perennial plants are a cost effective way to achieve flowers year after year. Many plants can be obtained once and carry on for years. One aspect of a great perennial garden is continuous blooms. If your garden is bare in early spring, try a few of the these plants. Some you will know, some may be new to you.

Hellebores

Probably little known to some home gardeners, hellebores can be the earliest to bloom. This blooming perennial is hardy in zones 5-8 and can bloom in winter in milder climates. Where the ground freezes, such as in Maine, hellebores bloom in early spring. Foliage is leathery and dark green. It’s long lasting blooms come in shades of green, white, pink and more.

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The green-mauve hue of this hellebores blossom.

This perennial is among the most unique of blooming plants. Blossoms last for a long time, remaining seemingly unchanged over a period of weeks. If you have a shady wooded site, this may be the plant for you. Clusters along a woodsy path would be perfect.

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The light green brings a refreshing change to the garden.

Common names include ‘Christmas Rose’, ‘winter rose’ and ‘Lenten rose’ because of it’s capability to bloom in winter in some areas. Even though the word rose is used, it is not related to the rose family. Not always among the more common greenhouse perennials, hellebores are becoming more widely available. They happen to be very photogenic and a gardener could easily get suckered into obtaining one in every color!

Brunnera

If you love Forget-me-nots, you’ll really go head over heels for brunnera (Siberian Bugloss)! A perfect addition to a shady border, this plant comes with solid green or variegated foliage. I prefer the variegated because it adds so much contrast. It’s frosted appearance really pops in darker settings. Mix a few in with a stand of hosta plants for an amazing display.

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Brunnera looks like forget-me-nots.

Hardy for zones 3-8, this plant can fit a wide variety of applications. With it’s heart shaped leaves, it looks so different than many common garden plants. This shade loving perennial starts blooming in May and carries on through June. After blooming, the foliage remains for the rest of the summer. The height only reaches 12″, so it won’t block any of your later plants.

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The gorgeous contrasting leaves.

Because of their low growing habit, brunnera makes a great ground hugging plant. They can also be grown in a container and used for cut flower arrangements.

Creeping Phlox

This ground cover perennial may seem pretty common but what a beautiful flower show in spring. Also known as ‘Moss pink’ or Phlox Subulata. Creeping phlox is easy to care for and once established can provide years of spring blooms. Winter hardy in zones 3-9, it comes in an array of colors from white to pink and purple. Perfect for naturalizing on a banking or in a rock garden. Plants thrive on a rock wall or in poor soil.

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The cheerful pink flowers of creeping phlox.

When flowers emerge, they turn into masses of bright blooms. As flowers fade, the garden is left with handsome evergreen foliage. When the plant matures, simply trim older stems that stop putting out flowers. If left unattended, weeds can be a problem so pull any grass that appears under the plants. Bloom time is around Memoral day here in Maine. Plant along the front of Forget-me-nots, ‘Basket of Gold’ alyssum or ‘Snow in Summer’.

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Pink is the most commonly seen color of creeping phlox.

Some may be hesitant to use creeping phlox because it’s so commonly seen in cemetaries. I have to say that it fits perfectly into the home garden as well. Growing creeping phlox can be a solution to problem areas and can be a low maintenance choice.

Bleeding Heart

One of the old-time favorites of the cottage flower garden. Often seen by the foundation of farmhouses, this blooming perennial is the glory of the spring garden. Bleeding heart or (dicentra spectabilis) can be a large, fountain of color, making quite a splash. Then, as the summer heat rises, the plant actually dies back. This makes way for the next round of garden color. Bleeding hearts self seed readily and love shade or dappled light. Bloom time varies but usually happens in May.

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Stunning white bleeding heart plant!

Old fashioned bleeding hearts come in pink and white. Both add so much to early spring beds with their long arching stems. These flowering plants are extremely hardy and fit well into spring bouquets. If you don’t have a bleeding heart in your shady garden, maybe it’s time to borrow a bloomer from your grandmothers garden of old! There are later dicentra varieties that flower in the summer and have a lower, more compact habit. I think the early bleeding heart is my favorite though. It’s a classic!

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Bleeding heart with Solomon seal.

Solomon’s Seal

When it comes to blooming shade perennials, this early bloomer really stands out. This sweet white flower can be used as pretty vase filler. As the stems of Solomon’s seal rise up from the ground, they grow straight up them arch gracefully. Even as the flowers fade, the plant adds structural interest to the garden for the rest of the season. Notice how well it goes with the bleeding heart pictured above.

Solomon’s seal is an elegant addition to any shady garden.

Solomon’s seal or polygonatum, is a must-have for the shade garden. Once established, this plant spreads slowly but is easy to propagate by division. This is a quiet participant in the garden but stands up under poor conditions. White dangling blossoms turn into black seed pods for further garden interest. If you’ve never seen Solomon’s seal, give it a try!

These are just a taste of the perennials that offer early spring blooms. These 5 can be found at most large garden centers. If you have gaps in your bloom times, why not plant a few of these colorful flowering perennials? This way you will see continuous color in your garden from early spring right through to fall! Here at Everlongardener we have been dodging the black flies while planting much of the vegetable garden. The weather has been a bit of a roller coaster of temperatures. It may hit 90 today! Enjoy your week and happy planting!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Attract Pollinators In 3 Easy Steps

Some of the hardest work in the garden is done by our pollinators. With all of the challenges we face as gardeners, attracting pollinators to our gardens can be something we may overlook. Why not make your little patch of earth a haven for these garden helpers. Let’s see how you can attract more pollinators to your garden this season with just 3 easy steps!

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Many critters contribute to pollinating. These include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, bats and birds. In this post we will learn 3 ways to keep these important workers around.

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

Plant for Pollinators 

Those of us who are flower gardeners tend to plant what we love. The list of flowers that I like is pretty long. Annuals, perennial, bulbs…I really love ’em all. I so often pick the colors and shapes that appeal to me. Although I feel strongly about certain plants, I’m gradually learning what the pollinators prefer. Planting in masses gives pollinators an easy place to forage pollen. Like a giant landing strip to bounce from flower to flower on. Bees love native wildflowers such as wild asters, goldenrod and purple coneflower. Herbs include basil, lavender and oregano. Even trees and shrubs are great, like blackberries, roses and willows offer food for pollinators. Some plants recommended for pasture planting are alfalfa, buckwheat and clover. I’ve been reading a new book called 100 Plants to Feed the Bees. This book is packed with plant info for anyone looking for ideas for a pollinator garden.

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Herb flowers make great bee food!

One place to start is by noticing when food is available for our pollinators. With the very beginning of spring, the insect world quickly comes alive. By mid April, bugs are out and about. What will they find for food? The question really is, what does your landscape have to offer? Spring bulbs and tiny wild flowers are the first to appear. If you hold still and look, you will see them coming to the flowers.

Some pollinators on the rambling rose.

By allowing some areas of your property to go wild, you allow more native plants to be available for the early and late pollinators. These days, more farmers are encouraged to leave bands of wild plants on part of their farms. This encourages diversity and more pollinators.

The tiniest of bees on the Gypsophilia.

A Hospitable Habitat 

Many people put out bird houses and hummingbird feeders. Why not put out something for the pollinators. For centuries, gardeners have catered to pollinators by putting out bee skeps. People keep bee hives for honey and pollination. We have a bat house that houses some of our bat population.

Attract native bees to your garden for extra pollination.

Native bees or mason bees are terrific pollinators. They are solitary bees. These bees do not belong to a hive. In their short lives, they simply lay eggs, pollinate and then die. Since they do not need to bring pollen back to the bee hive, they aren’t as picky as honey bees. This is an example of a mason bee house elbow. The name ‘mason bee’ comes from how they lay eggs in a hole of some kind, then pack mud or clay in front of it. Look close at the holes and you will see that many of them are occupied.

The bees have been busy!

A mason bee house should be positioned toward the east so that the bees can benefit from morning sun. Also, place the house near a source of mud. There are many styles out there. Some can be made from recycled items and others can be purchased. Native bees look for hollow stems and crevices to lay eggs in, so keep some plants standing for them in the fall.

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This is a bee house that was made from recycled and found materials.

This mason bee house was easy to make and can be a great project to do with kids. Learning about bees is fun and kids love them. Last year we even made a butterfly and bee watering station.

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A mason bee house purchased from a garden supply company.

Eliminate Toxins

You may think that you have a very natural environment around your property. You may also think that you have a great home for pollinators. Consider the products that you may be using. Many lawn care products are toxic for bees and other insects. By allowing dandelions and clover to reside in the lawn, you are providing much needed sustenance to our native pollinators. I know that a few of you will cringe over this thought but it’s something to consider. Most of us know that bees have been on the decline for many years and that pesticides are a huge factor. Try seeking alternative treatments or products. There is so much information out there today about how to tackle problems naturally. Your local extension website will cover just about any topic.

Dandelions are among the first flowers available in spring.

It is possible to grow a productive garden using organic techniques. Just because a product eliminates one problem, it may carry future unseen consequences. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and most experienced gardeners are happy to share it with others.

Even common flies pollinate!

Many pollinators play a role in our gardens. It doesn’t take much to make them a safer place to live.

 

A small wild bee looking to lay eggs in the garden.

The hummingbirds are already back in Maine. Time to get your feeders out. Other birds are all making nests in their usual places around our yard. We have been steeling away a little time here and there to work in the gardens but the weather has been very chilly. I hope that you get a chance to take notice of the pollinators in your yard soon. Diversity makes a better garden on so many levels. Thanks for taking the time to see what’s going on at Everlongardener this week. If you would like more gardening tips, subscribe in the sidebar. It’s free and you won’t miss a thing!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Growing Better Beets

Oh, the reasons to grow beets in your home garden this year!

Oh, the reasons to grow beets in your home garden this year! If you are anything like me, you may have tried growing beets for years, only to end up with a few beet greens and some pathetic gnarled beet roots. With a bit of care, you too can start growing better beets!

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Beets are literally a vegetable for all seasons. Early beet tops can be added to salad greens for a colorful mix. Beet greens are the delicious thinnings from rows of beets. Tender baby beets are harvested after as little as 40 days to allow the others to grow bigger. Steam them and top with butter for a spring supper delight. Then comes the fall crop of plump, flavorful whole beets. A late summer sowing can give you a quick fall harvest of greens. It’s easy to see why beets are so versatile. Beets and greens are packed with nutrients as well as good for digestion.

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Beets seeds in all colors!

Kaleidoscope of Colors

Although red is the typical color for beets, one look at any seed catalog and you will find that they truly do come in a kaleidoscope of colors. Slice them open and you will see rings of beauty before your eyes. Beets come in round and cylindrical shapes. Varieties of red beets include ‘Bull’s Blood’, ‘Detroit’ and ‘Red Ace’. White beets such as ‘Albino’ or ‘Avalanche’ offer a very different look. Golden beets like ‘Touchstone Gold’ or ‘Bolder’ are extremely popular. Or try ‘Chioggia’, a peppermint striped Italian heirloom. I’m growing something totally different this season, ‘3 Root Grex’ from Fedco. An heirloom mix that includes ‘Yellow Intermediate’, ‘Crosby Purple Egyptian’ and ‘Lutz Saladleaf’. Sounds totally exotic and should be interesting to say the least.

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Colorful beets are a joy to look at!

Although all beet greens are good for eating, ‘Early Wonder Tall Top’ leads the way for spring beet greens. Often sold at farm stands early in the year, beet greens are a local old time spring pleasure.

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Beet greens ready for the cooking pot!

When To Plant Beets

Beets are one of those vegetables that can be seeded out very early. Some of our local markets plant under the cover of greenhouses for an extra early crop. Beet seeds can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. If your garden is dry enough, go ahead and plant. Beet seeds are actually a cluster of seeds in one so you may get more than one plant sprouting from each seed. Give them a spot full of organic matter and they will grow like crazy! Last year my aged bunny manure was the ticket to getting lovely beets!

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Planting out beet seeds.

Bringing in the Beet Harvest

With so many stages of the beet season to enjoy, don’t miss out on any of them. After about 45 days, it may be time to harvest your first beet greens. Carefully harvest a few greens from the rows. Make sure to leave plenty for the baby beet stage. When beets reach 1-2″, pull some for a feast of tender, sweet baby beet roots.

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Gorgeous beet greens!

During the summer in our garden, beets and chard are planted in the same area for an edible ornamental color show. Beets have few if any pests so they make an easy crop for new gardeners.

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Beet leaves are among the prettiest plants in the garden!

Through the summer, allow some beets to grow to full maturity. Given the space, beets can grow to enormous sizes. I like about 3″ but they can grow much bigger.

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Solid, whole beets maturing in the garden.

As fall approaches, harvest beets for immediate use or prepare them for storage.

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Whole beets keep well for winter use.

Storage and Uses

Beets can be stored for most of the winter by removing tops, washing them and storing them in the refrigerator. Start using them up if they seem soft. They do need proper humidity for good storage. Keep an eye on them. For more storage info, go to Beets and Beet Greens. Canning and pickling are also tasty ways to preserve your beet harvest. Once you start growing better beets, you will want to enjoy them most of the year.

Add beets to your menu with borscht soup, beet salad or roasted beets. Beets are a regular feature of my roasted one-pan meals such as Simple Roasted Vegetables. Beets are great just peeled and boiled for a no-fuss addition to any meal. If the skin is tender, try eating the skin. Otherwise, skins peel off easily after cooking.

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Beets are a star player in my sausage vegetable bake!

For a colorful garden this year, choose beets! They may not be everyone’s favorite but they really pull their weight in the garden. I just got my beet seeds in the ground. Soon, those red and green leaves will be popping up through the soil. Thank you for looking into growing better beets this week. Don’t forget to subscribe in the sidebar and you won’t miss out on helpful weekly gardening posts.

Hilary|Everlongardener