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?

Www.everlongardener.com

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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com
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

www.everlongardener.com
Second round of basil, hope it makes it!
www.everlongardener.com
A few strawberries!
www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com

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.

www.everlongardener.com
‘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.

www.everlongardener.com
‘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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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

www.everlongardener.com
Peonies in bud!
Www.Everlongardener.com
The bees are crazy for the rhododendrons.
www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com

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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

 

www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com

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.

www.everlongardener.com
‘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.

www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com
‘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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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

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!

www.everlongardener.com

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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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!

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
Solid, whole beets maturing in the garden.

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

www.everlongardener.com
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.

www.everlongardener.com
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

What To Plant Right Now!

It may be too early to set out your peppers and tomatoes, but are there any seeds to plant now? If you have the right conditions, many cool season crops can be planted very soon! Get your garden ready and plant these vegetables right now!

Some veggie seeds can be planted well before your local date of last frost. In seed packet directions it’s not uncommon to see the expression ‘as soon as the ground can be worked’. This means that the frost must be out of the ground and the garden has warmed up. Moisture level is another factor. If the soil is too wet, seeds will surely rot in the dirt.

image
Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Working your soil too early can also destroy the delicate soil structure. Digging or tilling will compact the garden, making it less able to dry out. Try the old squeeze test. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it in your fist. The garden soil should be fluffy and light, not forming a ball in your palm. The type of garden you have may also determine when you are able to plant. Traditional gardens may take more time to fully dry out, while raised beds tend to dry out more quickly. If a garden is in a low area, soil may take longer to get to the proper moisture level.

What to Plant Now

If you want to plant early, think of cool season crops. Root crops such as carrots, radishes, parsnips and turnips can be planted.

img_7352
Radish harvest.

Many salad greens seeds can be pushed into the soil with great growing success.

image
Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

Beets and chard thrive in cooler temps and it’s a great time to think about getting members of the onion family in the ground as well.

img_6769
‘Ruby Streaks’ mizuna.

Different varieties of mustard greens excel with the absence of pests in early spring.

www.everlongardener.com
Peas climbing on wire.

Planting peas is one of the first things we do. My neighbor is an avid gardener and we are always watching for him to plant his peas. The age old goal is to have fresh peas by the 4th of  July and usually we make it. I soak my pea seeds the night before planting. This gives them a little head start when they get into the ground. If the forecast is calling for a week of rain, hold off on direct seeding. Wait until it’s a bit drier and your seeds will thank you.

Under Cover Crops

If you are concerned about night time temps, a secured floating row cover could be placed over newly emerging seeds. Some growers plant and then place a milk jug over the plant to act as a mini greenhouse.

img_7346
Floating row cover suspended over greens.

The brassica family includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. Seed packets will tell you to plant seed directly in the garden maybe 3-4 weeks before date of last frost. I don’t know anyone who directs seeds around here. Let me know if you do. Your best bet is to start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost or purchase healthy seedlings at your local greenhouse. Then, 2-4 weeks before last frost, set out seedlings into the garden. Watch the weather and night temperatures. You could also erect a temporary greenhouse to get a jump on the season. If you can successfully grow brassicas, you will love the flavors!

Choose the Right Varieties

When choosing garden seed for cool season crops, read seed packets carefully. Choose varieties that do well in cooler temps. Some lettuce types love cold weather, where summer varieties keep going through the heat of summer. Certain carrot varieties can withstand cool or very cold weather. I explain figuring out seed lingo in Decoding The Seed Packet, a post designed to help gardeners understand seed packet information.

www.everlongardener.com
Pea seeds soon will go in the ground!

Better to Wait

Warm season veggies should be set out after all danger of frost. It’s just so much better to wait for things like tomato and pepper seedlings. I usually direct seed cucumbers, beans and squash in late May here in zone 5b Maine. Early planting of these vegetables may lead to killing the plants and making you a very discouraged gardener! So, be patient and you will enjoy a more successful garden.

www.everlongardener.com
Early season seeds!

If you plant soon, you will be thinning those first beet greens out of the garden before you know it. Within the next few weeks I will be sowing some of these cool season seeds in my gardens. I plan on getting my heat tolerant salad greens and radishes in the ground soon too. i usually put the seeds that I want to plant first into a small basket. Every time I have a few minutes, I go out and plant one or two things. Check out your garden. Planting time may be sooner than you think !

IMG_6974
Garden harvest.

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”-William Shakespeare. I saw this quote the other day and it made me think of many that I know who want to be in the garden but cannot because of poor health or circumstances. That is a harsh reality but I do hope that this post has made you feel like getting out in your garden. Spring chores can seem overwhelming. Just pick away at them a little at a time and you will get there! Thank you!

If any if you are going to be in the Rockland, Maine area this Saturday at 1pm, I will be teaching a mason be class at ArtLoft Rockland. We will be learning how to attract our native bees to our gardens and making bee houses from natural and recycled materials. Go to ArtLoft Rockland to register!

Hilary|Everlongardener

How To Start A New Garden

Sometimes the biggest obstacle a potential gardener can have is simply starting a garden.  The fear of failure prevents them from jumping right in.  I’ve been asking various people a question.  If they were to move into a new house, how would they start a new vegetable garden?  Some said raised beds, others said cardboard and mulch.  How would you start a new garden?

Traditionally, gardeners begin their years of toil by tilling a plot.  Nothing like that fresh dirt in neat, long rows!  But, then what happens?  Shortly after planting, a myriad of weeds emerge, ready to drown out any small plant pushing through the surface.  Better get out your hoe for hours of endless weeding!  Let’s explore a few ways to start a new garden and how to minimize some of the work!

Raised Bed Gardens

If you’ve read my post Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening, you know that I’m a huge advocate for the raised bed.  I find that they cut my work literally in half.  With the garden raised up above the ground about a foot, you can easily sit on the side to harvest and work.  Weeding is minimal in a raised bed garden so most of your work will be planting, watering and picking.

Raised beds fix many gardening problems.

Raised beds can be made from many different materials.  Logs, cement blocks, pallet beds, brick.  Wooden boards are probably the most common thing used for the sides.  When the boards are 12″, the bed allows for growing longer crops such as carrots and parsnips.  Cedar, pine and our personal favorite hemlock are often used.  Hemlock boards can last for over 10 years.  Never use treated lumber when building a food garden bed because the toxic chemicals can leach into the soil.  Of course, if the soil is okay under the bed, don’t feel pressured to have 12″ beds.  I’ve even seen raised garden tables for no bending over whatsoever!  Talk about easy on your back!

We love our raised bed gardens!

Raised beds can be built with any dimentions that you like.  Since boards often come in 12′ lengths, we have built 12’x3′ beds.  A 3-4′ width across the bed makes for easier picking and sowing.  Our beds are secured with 3″ screws.  Lay one layer of cardboard in the bottom of the bed.
This will suppress weeds that may be under the new bed.  Our boxes have been filled with garden loam and then topped with compost or aged manure, which get worked in over the summer.  Every year, additional topdressing ensures soil fertility.  Cardboard can be placed on the ground between beds to establish a weed free path.  This can be covered with bark mulch or crushed rock.

Putting the board together for the box gardens.

Once you have your beds in place, many gardening methods can be used.  Mulch or no mulch, square foot gardening, it works well for so many things.  Worms can come right up from the ground below to start cultivating your soil.  There is some initial cost up front but the rewards will outweigh this very quickly.  I actually made a friend into a raised bed convert a number of years ago.  Now her whole front yard is full of them!

Simple No-dig Method

The no-dig method is making great strides in the gardening world.  There have been many similar garden types out there such as heavily mulched gardens and lasagna gardens.  The idea is to cover existing weeds with a layer of cardboard or newspaper, then add your soil right on top.  Compost or aged manure is then used to dress out the bed.  Beds can be made with sides or no sides.  In this type of gardening, no digging goes on.  Put away your spade and tiller.  Only a trowel is used for digging surface weeds.  This idea appealed to me so much, that last year I began to implement Charles Dowding’s no-dig advice.

Good soil is the key to a successful garden!

Many of us want to save money by having a home garden.  If you are starting a new garden, try not to skimp on soil.  I read somewhere recently to spend 75% of your garden budget on soil and soil amendments.  That may seem pretty steep but in the case of soil you really get out what you put into it.  For more detailed information on this topic go to No-dig Gardening or look up the expert himself, Charles Dowding.  I’m really excited to see how the results turn out for us in the coming gardening season.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

Incorporating Edibles Into The Existing Landscape 

So, what if you can’t start a new garden but you want to grow more of your own food?  Container gardening is a fantastic way to utilize deck or driveway space.  Mix herbs into your flower boxes for an aromatic display.  Try planting deck tomatoes.  There are many self-watering planters on the market and the internet is full of do-it-yourself planter ideas.  Check your shed, you may have some pots that you can use out there!

My mothers beans in a container.

This picture above shows young pole beans planted in a horse grain container.  Almost anything that will hold dirt and keep in some water will work.

Chard is a wonderful addition to the edible landscape.

If you have existing perennial gardens, could you make room for some edibles?  Think about placing a few tomatoes or a bean teepee in between shrubs.  A potted cucumber tower could provide plenty of cukes with vertical growing.  Spots between perennial flowers can be cozy homes for clumps of lettuce, kale, carrots or chard.  Ever-bearing alpine strawberries make an adorable garden edging.  Add in a few high bush blueberries to the side of your yard.  Get creative, the more you plant, there will be fewer places for weeds to come up!

Leaf lettuce can provide an abundant harvest!

Whatever you choose to do for a garden, why not try something new? Many gardeners are proving that these methods really work and make gardening a whole lot easier.   One of the biggest rewards is the taste of homegrown produce!

We are in our first week of spring here at Everlongardener.  The weather feels a bit more like January but maybe March is going out with a bang!  Thanks for giving this a read this week and feel free to subscribe in the sidebar for more weekly gardening motivation.  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.  Remember, anyone can garden!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

5 Easy Vegetables For The Beginner Gardener

So many of the beginner gardeners that I talk to have an idea of what they want but don’t know how to get there.  The first vegetable garden I had in my adult life was very simple.  A few tomatoes, green beans and some lettuce.  Over the years, little by little, more types of flowers and vegetables have been added to my garden.  This is my list of 5 easy vegetables for beginner gardeners.

Green Beans

Whether you choose bush or pole beans, this easy vegetable can be a sure-fire crop.  Grow it well and you may be harvesting tons of beans.  Tasty, fresh green beans can be pricey in the stores but with just one packet of seeds you could be feeding quite a few people.

Wax bush beans.

First, decide if you are growing bush or pole beans.  Bush beans grow in a low, bushy formation and are fairly early.  Pole beans grow up a support and produce beans later than bush types.  For the first time gardener, you may want to start off with a few rows of bush beans.  If you are a bit more adventurous, add in two poles and grow climbing beans.  They will extend your bean harvest and can be easier to pick.

A mixture of wax and green beans.

We plant our bush beans in short rows and hill dirt around them as they grow.  To grow pole beans, you will need to plan for adequate supports well before planting day.  Bean teepees are popular or a trellis can be used.  We have an abundance of young trees in our woods, so we tend to set 10′ saplings in the ground fairly deep.  This may sound like overkill, but believe me, the bean vines are heavy and summer winds can be strong.

‘Romano’ pole beans climbing.

Look for tender varieties such as ‘Provider’, ‘Jade’ or French beans like ‘Hardicots Verts’.  Wax beans are pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.  Pole beans come in many lengths and colors.  Some favorites are ‘Romano’, a flat Italian and good old ‘Kentucky Wonder’.  I have to tell you that they are better than gold!

Lettuce

There are few things as glorious as making a salad from ingredients that you have grown yourself.  That being said, the foundation of such a salad is of course the lettuce.  Start with seeds in early spring.  Save some of your seeds for successive plantings.  With a little careful planning, you can harvest lettuce into the fall.

Leaf lettuce in the garden.

Some of the easiest lettuce varieties to grow are loose leaf types.  By cutting outer leaves, the lettuce plant is pushed to grow more leaves.  Pick colors and textures that appeal to you.  ‘Black Seeded Simpson’ is an old standby that sports bright green ruffles.  ‘Red Salad Bowl’ is a staple of the spring garden.  ‘Mesclun’ mix is an easy choice for a colorful mix.  For some warm season types, try ‘Summer Lettuce Mix’ from Fedco.  Other companies will carry a similar mixture that will be slow to bolt in the summer heat.

Gorgeous bowl of salad greens.

Plant a few rows of lettuce seeds as soon as ground can be worked.  Pick up a few lettuce seedlings if you want to get a jump on production.  Then, plant a few seeds every two weeks or so.  You can count on a continual harvest.  Sow additional seed in August for months of fall salad greens.  To learn about extending the harvest, read about Succession Planting.

Peas

One of the earliest of vegetables is the garden pea.  Like beans, they come in bush and climbing varieties.  At our house, we like our garden peas for fresh eating.  They rarely, if ever, make it to the table.  We relish those first sweet, firm green peas.  Fresh peas are also excellent in green salads.

Peas climbing up the support.

Peas will need a support if they are climbers.  3′ chicken wire between two garden stakes works just fine.  Some gardeners use strings with much success.  Pick out early types like ‘Sugar Ann’ or ‘Sugar Snap’.  Peas can be planted out very early.  Make sure soil is not too wet.  Attempting to grow enough for the freezer may be a stretch for the beginner gardener.  Plant according to your space.

Radishes

Nothing makes you feel like a gardener more than pulling those first crisp radishes from the garden soil!  How many other vegetables can you really grow in less than 30 days?  Radishes are an obvious choice for adding into salads but their greens can be used in soups and stir-fry’s.

Radishes with salad greens.

One of the great things about growing radishes is that they are generally a cool season crop.  Plant your first seeds in early spring and plant another round in fall for a second harvest.  Radishes take up very little space so they can be planted on there own or inter-planted with other vegetables such as lettuce.

Radish harvest.

For spring radishes, choose a traditional red like ‘Cherry Belle’ or go for a mix of reds, purples, whites and pinks.  ‘White Icicle’ has a long cylindrical formation.  ‘French Breakfast’ is alwaysan elegant choice.  Make sure when choosing radish varieties, that you take the hotness factor into consideration.  You will want to be able to eat what you plant.

Tomatoes

What beginner garden would be complete without a few tomatoes?  Choose tomato types according to what you like to eat.  If you like to make sauce choose ‘San Marzano’ or ‘Amish Paste’.  For the salad eater, try currant, grape or cherry varieties like ‘Sun Gold’ or ‘Super Sweet 100’.  For the BLT lover, go for slicers like the reliable ‘Jetstar’.

A variety of beautiful tomatoes.

Tomatoes are generally prolific.  A gardener can stake, cage or string tomatoes for support.  Pruning suckers can ensure an earlier harvest as well as managing plant size.

Place tomatoes in zipper bag to freeze.

Preserving the harvest can be as easy as freezing whole tomatoes.  If you want to put up a few and don’t have time to can, simply cut out the blossom end and toss into a freezer bag.  When you need tomatoes for a recipe that calls for crushed tomatoes, place a few frozen tomatoes in a saucepan.  Add a bit of water and cook down.  Remove skin and pour thawed tomatoes into your chili or soup.  For more details, go to Quick Food Preservation Tips.

Small Garden Planning

Depending on the size of your garden space, you can stick with the 5 easy vegetables or add a few more favorites.  Understandably, a new garden will probably be one garden but I took the liberty of designing a two bed system.  Boards often come in 12′ lengths, so with 5-12′ boards, you can make 2 raised beds and only cut one of the boards.  One board can be cut in 3′ lengths for end pieces.  I have more tips for raised beds in the article Try Raised Beds For Easy Gardening.

A small garden plan.

Notice that I’ve made room for our 5 easy vegetables.  This space allows for a few extras.  Two zucchini plants and two cucumbers are planted at the base of each bed.  There is room for 6 tomato plants along with bush and pole beans.  Flowers such as marigolds can be planted for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects.  Try planting a few favorite herbs if you have the room.  Whatever you choose, start small.  You can always expand upon your garden next year.

Common marigold.

Some of you may be making a vegetable garden for the first time this year while others are looking to simplify their garden.  Of course, not everyone likes all of these vegetables.  Just swap out one for another.  Grow what you like.  If your plot is smaller, grow only two tomatoes and just grow the bush beans.  Play around with the dimensions on paper.

Spring officially begins next week.  I’m not sure if the weather will feel like spring though!  Keep on planning your garden, we will be there before you know it.  Here at Everlongardener, we are starting a few seeds and shoveling snow this week.  Thanks for reading this week and don’t forget to subscribe in sidebar for weekly blog posts.

Hilary|Everlongardener


Simple Roasted Vegetables

What’s one of the easiest, tastiest ways to enjoy eating your vegetables? Roasting them!  No matter what season it is, simple roasted vegetables are an excellent way to prepare an evening meal.  Roasting vegetables is one of the best ways to use up storage vegetables or just a way to clean out the crisper!

Roasted vegetables work so well as a side dish, a vegetarian meal or with meat added to the pan to create a one dish meal.  Try using chicken, pork or sausage made from chicken or pork.  Our favorite option uses local pork sausage mixed with as many veggies as we can fit on the pan.

Snip sausage with kitchen scissors.

Use a large cookie sheet or roasting pan.  I use my kitchen scissors to cut the sausage in 2″ pieces.

Chopped turnip and beets.

On to the vegetables!  A number of years ago, a friend mentioned that she had been just roasting veggies every night.  No matter what they were, she would simply cook them in the oven.  Broccoli was one veggie that she specifically mentioned.  I had always steamed broccoli.  After trying this method of cooking, I now roast broccoli whenever I can.  As you can see above, beets and turnip can be chopped uniformly to add to your pan.

Cauliflower and broccoli cook up nicely.

Cauliflower and broccoli cook up about the same when you roast them.  Broccoli tends to get a little singed on the edges.  Cauliflower is wonderful when roasted with garlic and then pureed to emulate mashed potato.  Just know that the garlic flavor is quite potent!

Parsnips and carrots have so much flavor.

What would this one pan dinner be without carrots and parsnips?  The sweet flavors are almost like eating candy.  This is one way to use up smaller homegrown carrots.  The ones that are a nuisance to deal with.  Give them a scrub, cut off the end and throw into the pan.  Sometimes our local farm stand has parsnips as big as your forearm.  It only takes one of these to make a meal special and give it that earthy, sweet parsnip taste.

Sweet potatoes are as sweet as can be!

Did I mention sweet potato?  Cut them into chunks or slice like in this photo.  They are fabulous.  It seems that when you roast vegetables, everything just goes together.

Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, cauliflower and beets, ready for the oven.

This past year, I started roasting brussel sprouts.  I’ve grown to love them in this way.  They are especially good with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  Don’t forget that you can use pieces of white potato, asparagus, green beans and bell peppers.  Winter squash wedges are really good too.

Onions are do sweet when roasted.

Onions turn into pure perfection when roasted with other vegetables.  Soft with crispy edges.

Try not to overcrowd the pan!

I literally throw this meal together.  It’s almost like a convenience food for me.  I simply chop, assemble and then we are about an hour away from an awesome meal.  In my oven, the roasted veggies come out best cooked for about an hour at 400 degrees F.  Before placing in the oven, drizzle or spritz with olive oil if desired.  If you are using sausage, go easy on the oil.  Toss in some garlic cloves and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder or brown sugar.  Whatever you like.  Stir vegetables half way through cooking.

A delicious meal!

The resulting meal is so delicious and satisfying.  The flavors all blend together.  It may be simple to make roasted vegetables but the flavors are anything but.  I think that you should make it tonight!  If you have some vegetables in the fridge that are borderline or if some of your veggies stored from your fall harvest are looking sad, try this sumptuous one pan meal!  I hope that you will enjoy it as much as our family does!  Thanks for coming along this week as Everlongardener explores the simple art of roasting veggies!  Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for my weekly garden related ramblings!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

No-dig Gardening

Before we get into what no-dig gardening means, let’s investigate the following scenario.  This coming spring, you hire someone to rototill your vegetable garden.  The soil is rich and brown.  A perfect blank canvas for this years garden!  But, in a matter of weeks, the inevitable happens.  Tiny weeds come growing in like a carpet.  What can be done? More tilling?  Hours of weeding?  These are some of the reasons why I’ve begun to investigate no-dig gardening!

I had heard about gardening without work years ago.  I even have Ruth Stouts book Gardening Without Work.  Her method involved mulching with old hay.  She had some fantastic ideas.  It’s worth looking up some of her old interviews.  After helping the local Seed Saving group mulch a garden in this way, I didn’t like the hay method because it seemed to harbored snakes. Not my thing!

A friend gave me Lee Reichs book Weedless Gardening.  His strategy calls for more mulching.  Definitely some great ideas for taking a lot of the backbreaking work out of growing vegetables.  I have even used grass clipping for moisture control.  But, I hear what you are saying, aching backs and worn out knees just go hand-in-hand with gardening.  Don’t worry, there is still much to do.  Just no digging!

Ready for next springs planting!

This spring, I was introduced to the term no-dig gardening.  I really didn’t understand because how do you have a garden if you can’t dig in the compost?  Or how do you harvest potatoes and parsnips?  I always thought that any ground good for planting had to be cultivated as far down as possible.  I had never subscribed to idea of double digging, too much work.  Then I began thinking about my own beds.  Raised beds that I occasionally top dressed with manure or compost.  Two of my beds were built on top of rocky ground.  With a cardboard layer spread out to squelch any grass beneath, layers of loam and compost made my two above ground beds.  So essentially, besides mixing in compost, I was doing a lot of the things recommended in a no-dig garden.

Salad greens.

As I became more interested in no-dig gardening, I decided to start reading a book by no-dig expert Charles Dowding, How To Create A New Vegetable Garden.  The book meticulously chronicles how to start beds without digging in at all.  Using layers of materials to achieve fertile planting ground for all sorts of flowers, herbs and vegetables.  Trial gardens demonstrate side by side comparisons of tilled gardens next to no-dig beds.  Amazingly there is little difference in productivity.  Vivid photos and commentary on how he transformed the abandoned gardens at his Somerset, England property called Homeacres.  Mr. Dowding came upon the idea many decades ago after tilling up a garden and then he was faced with a question:  Would he till it again next year?  What would happen if it was just mulched?  This was the start of the no-dig garden.  He has used this way of gardening at many properties.

One of the negatives of tilling is that the disturbed soil is a perfect place for weed seeds to germinate.  Tilling can also mix in weed roots and get them mixed deeper into your garden.   I tend to fight this no-dig gardening idea because nothing looks better than freshly cultivated soil.  But, I’m trying to rethink some of the traditional methods.  We are forced to think that if we want any productivity we must break our backs to get it.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty to do in the garden.  Yearly top dressing of aged manure, starting new beds, harvesting and watering.  The idea is that you don’t have to dig everything to get your garden to produce.  Have I lost you yet?

Raised Bed Gardens

If you already have raised bed gardens, no-dig is easy to incorporate.  Simply top-dress your garden beds every season with well aged manure or compost.  Most raised beds don’t need much cultivation anyway.  Any small amount of weeds can be removed while you are working.

Take the work out of gardening!

When plants are ready to be removed, a twist and pull action is recommended.  Most crops do not not need a shovel for harvest but a garden fork may be used for vegetables like parsnips.

Traditional Garden Beds

To create a new garden bed, blocking out grass and weeds is a top priority.  Boards, tarps or cardboard can be put down in advance to kill off vegetation.  When you are ready to start, add layers of cardboard and compost right on top of the ground.  If the garden has paths, use cardboard.  A thick layer of wood chips would be a great addition.

Perennial border.

Creating new flowers beds can be done in the same way.  Permanent flower gardens love yearly applications of compost.

Top dress beds with compost or manure yearly.

In The Greenhouse

You may want to consider using no-dig if you have a greenhouse.     There are enough new nutrients in the organic matter near the top of the soil where the crops need it most.  Such fertile gardens are a nice home for worms and beneficial insects.

Summer in the greenhouse!

Along with the book that I mentioned earlier, related reading includes Veg Journal and Salad Leaves For All Seasons.  Look up ‘no-dig’ on YouTube and you will find some excellent info to think about.

Some reading on the no-dig garden subject.

When I was in the Master Gardener course, the instructors where always talking about tilling being a necessary evil in the garden.  Chopping up worms and destroying soil structure.  Now I’m beginning to see how gardening can be done in a more natural way.  It just makes sense!

A bountiful harvest.

This may be a foreign way to garden for you.  I know at first I had trouble wrapping my mind around it.  There are many of you out there that I know struggle with getting your garden going and have a hard time producing vegetables.  Just consider what less work in the garden could mean for you and your subsequent harvest.  We all have different ways of gardening but we never stop learning!  I’m sure this is not the last you will hear about no-dig gardening.  Thanks for checking out Everlongardener this week!  Remember that you can subscribe for free in sidebar!

Hilary|Everlongardener