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

 

Pasta With Fresh Garden Peas

In the summertime, I need to make a lot of 30-minute meals. When the weather is nice, we often get carried away with outdoor activities. Suddenly it’s 6 p.m. and there’s no meal on the table. Sweet produce like fresh garden peas and comfort food like pasta make it easy to come up with a quick recipe. Often, we just grab what’s on hand and get cooking!

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Summer recipes can be simple, using basic pantry ingredients. Having just a few staples on hand for busy summer nights can make all the difference!

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Just 4 ingredients!

Ingredients List

  • 10 slices of bacon
  • 1 cup of fresh peas
  • 1 pound of cooked pasta
  • Parmesan cheese
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Shuck the peas!

Directions

Assemble all ingredients for making the dish. Put pasta water on the stove to boil. Start removing the peas from the shells. We call this shucking the peas! When pasta is nearly done, heat a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Cook the bacon to desired crispness. Please don’t mind the cooking action shots coming up!

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Sizzlin’ bacon!

Take the cooked bacon out of the pan and place on a paper towel to drain. Pour off some of the remaining bacon fat. Leave a tablespoon or so in the pan for cooking.

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Peas in the pan!

Add the fresh garden peas to the hot frying pan. Cook them for a few minutes while stirring gently. When the peas start to show that fresh, bright green color, turn off the heat. Toss in about 2/3 of the cooked pasta. Chop up the cooked bacon with kitchen scissors into 1/4″ pieces.

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Combine the ingredients.

Using tongs, turn mixture over several times to combine.

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Mix all ingredients.

When all of the pasta is mixed with the bacon and peas, serve in bowls. Grate on some Parmesan cheese for garnish and flavor.

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Delicious Pasta with Garden Peas!

Serving Suggestions

This recipe will work with nearly any pasta shape. We love it with bow-ties, shells or penne. Gluten-free pasta or cooked rice can also be substituted. If you already have leftover cooked pasta, cut the recipe in half for a express meal for two. As you can see, I used leftover spaghetti. Frozen petite peas can be used in place of the fresh garden peas. Garlic or onions could be added in the cooking process but may take away from the fresh pea flavor. Eat this meal alone or serve with a garden salad. This recipe makes about 4 meal sized servings. For more garden-to-table recipes, search ‘food’ in categories.

Do you have any speedy summer meals that can come together in just a few minutes? I would love to hear about them! We have needed many of these quick, throw together meals lately. We have been working on a patio area outside and these summer evenings go by so fast. Hopefully soon we will be out there enjoying our new outdoor space! The bush beans are ready for harvest. We have purple, green and yellow. Believe it or not, we are already thinking of planting for fall. But for now, it’s time to take advantage of the great weather for summer fun! I hope you try this garden fresh, easy recipe in the next few weeks. It’s a favorite around here! I’m leaving you with a few shots from the garden this week. Thanks and enjoy!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Nasturtiums from the vegetable garden.
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Grab on for dear life little guy!
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Pollinators out in full force.

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!

 

My Grandmothers Peonies

Flowers have always held different meanings. It is said the flowers have their very own language. Individual types of flowers mean different things to each of us. Flowers have always inspired poets and artists. A single flower can take us back to a special place or time. Some happy, some sad. For me, my grandmothers peonies do it every time.

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When my grandmother moved to her apartment later in life, the only perennials that came with her were her precious pink peonies. She planted them in a line in the back of her building. I’m not sure how many years she had been maintaining her favorite plants but I do know that she moved them to several different homes. She would wash her dishes in a wash basin and then send me out with the ‘grey water’ to water the thirsty peonies. This was supposedly the secret to huge blooms. We have several of her still life paintings featuring her pink peonies in a treasured vase.

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Peonies put on quite a show!

As the years have gone by, those same peonies have been moved to more homes. My sister and mother both have some in their gardens. I think I need to dig up a piece for my garden to make it complete.

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Pink is one of the many colors.

What Is It About Flowers?

For me it can be peonies or columbine or field flowers. For you it could be daisies, roses or Lily-of-the-Valley. The thing is that it could be any plant for anyone. Something that sparks a childhood memory or the thought of a person or an event. For Erin Benzakein, Washington state flower farmer, it’s sweet peas. Sweet peas brought her right back to her own grandmothers garden and the times she spent there. That first summer, word got around about her fabulous bouquets of sweet peas and someone placed an order. She nervously delivered the flowers only to find the recipient plunging her face into the fragrant bouquet and she started to cry. Why? Because they brought her back to her childhood days in her grandmothers garden. This experience helped Erin realize that there was a place for her in her area as a flower farmer. Flowers mean a lot to people. Adapted from Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein.

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The delicate folds of a peony blossom.

Peony Care 

Peonies are a long lived perennial, capable of lasting for generations. Herbaceous peonies require very little care and once established will not need division for some 8-10 years. Obtain bare roots by mail in the fall or get them from a generous friend. Plant them in a spot that offers full sun. Provide adequate drainage and plenty of organic matter. Roots will do best planted just below the soil, about 2″ for Northern growers. Space plants at least 3 feet apart. Peonies benefit from staking to keep heavy blooms off of the ground. After peonies bloom, dead-heading keeps the plant tidy. Any flowers left on the plant will form interesting seed pods so it’s up to you. Foliage continues to add structure to the garden and the leaves of some cultivars turn fiery red in autumn.

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Ever photogenic.

Divide mature plants in fall with a garden fork. Cut if necessary with a sharp knife. Each new clump should at least have three eyes. Plant in vacant spots in your garden, pass some on to friends or start a peony bed. It’s best to refrain from picking flowers while the plant is getting established.

Peonies As Cut Flowers 

Peonies make some of the most magnificent flower arrangements! Bold and colorful. Scented and grand! How can you make the most of your peonies?

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Irresistible bouquets!

Harvest flowers in the bud stage. Not when they first put out buds but when the flower petals start to soften. Growers call this the ‘marshmallow’ stage. Immediately plunge stems into clean water to refresh them. Pick off any ants that you find. It is said that peonies have nectar naturally occurring on the buds that ants are attracted to and the ants then aid the flower in opening. Remove the excess leaves and arrange as desired. Peonies can be placed in small arrangements or used in large, over-the-top displays.

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In the bud stage.

If you would like to use your peonies for a special occasion, the stems with buds can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. Farmers with proper floral storage can hold them for up to three months. Simply remove leaves, wrap in a plastic bag and paper towels. Lay flat in the refrigerator for best storage. Check on them occasionally. When you are ready to use them, re-cut the stems and place in warm water. Floral preservative can also be used. Buds will soon begin to open. They will be ready for your event within 24 hours. For more cut flower information, read Erin’s book above or try The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski.

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Making bouquets.

Peonies hold a special spot in my heart. Especially my grandmothers pink peonies. I’m sure that you have your own plant or flower that takes you back down memory lane. My husband seems to have started collecting rhubarb plants from various relatives. Please share what you love in a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! Also, check out the archives for other helpful gardening articles. Thanks for dropping by!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Memories…

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

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