Tag Archive | Gardening

How ’bout Planting an Extra Row?

Spring is springing!! The strawberries in my high tunnel are blooming with the great promise of nummy goodness in the near future. The broccoli that we planted last fall made it through the winter and is making heads as we speak. The recently planted lettuce, spinach, beets, green onions, broccoli and radishes are peeking through the soil, the carrots and cauliflower have yet to show their faces. My high tunnel is reaching some crazy warm temperatures – over 120 degrees and we have just finished the month of March. Special care has to be taken daily to roll the sides up on the structure to provide cross ventilation or the fledgling plants will wilt.

We have been checking soil temperatures in our fields and outside gardening areas. Besides the soil temperatures being a concern, our farm needs to also grow the supplemental forages for our grass-fed beef. Colorado has been coming up short in the moisture department for the last couple years which seriously decreases the time the cattle can graze a pasture. We have had to rotate the cattle through the fields quickly to protect the grass from over grazing. Most of our crops withered in the field in 2012, so careful thought has been given to a great forage that we could get to maturity!!!

With the hope that we could take advantage of our spring moisture, we began to plant an oat/pea mixture that will germinate at 40 degree soil temperature. The weatherman says we could get some precipitation in the next couple of days – so with 53 degree soil temps, the tractor and planter went into action last night. C'mon rain!

My outside raised beds have really warmed since our big snow about ten days ago. It's time to plant the onions, kale, and lettuce out there. We are going to put the onions in a block planting – every 4-6″ every direction. Onions are sensitive to photoperiod, so the earlier the planting, the larger the bulbs. Our raised beds will provide uncompacted soil and great drainage.

Gardeners across the country (even the world) have such a power to provide. A few extra seeds here and there – and with love, sunshine and water we can share our surplus with food banks. Our little town has a wonderful community outreach program. Many times, as I drop off my extra produce (course I have to look through the second-hand stuff to see if there is something I just have to have!) my fruits and veggies are already gone from the shelf. Something that seems trivial and extra to me means so much to others. There are many programs out there – Plant a Row for the Hungry supplies food banks with your farm fresh goodies. Many times food banks are only able to keep canned veggies on hand – merely because of the time it takes to store and distribute them. Produce for Pantries connects youth growing produce in school gardens, residents growing in community gardens, and citizens growing vegetables in home gardens to help nourish their neighbors in need. You can participate with a formal program or just gather your goodies and head for a local drop-off place.

So when you start tucking those seeds in the ground, add just a few extra to share with the food banks. Such a simple thing can really make a difference!

 

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Here’s the Scoop! (on dirt…)

Spring is almost here in the Rockies! I have been diligently checking my soil temperatures in the high tunnel and the day finally arrived! My raised beds were above 40 degrees and the cold crops of vegetables can go in the ground!

For the last two years I have been working on a grant through the NRCS on extending the growing season for fruits and vegetables. What that means is….I try to dream up any way I can think of to extend our zone 5 growing season.

After constructing our high tunnel, one of our first order of business was to construct raised beds. These can be made of any material you wish – anything from 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s, even larger lumber like 2 x 12s. You can use cement block or bricks. Please avoid railroad ties and pressure treated lumber! They contain chemicals that could leach into your soil and get into your plants. We only want you to grow goodness in your beds.

We used 2 x 6s in our high tunnel, but dug the soil within the bed down 6″ and mixed it with the organic matter and new soil we had brought in to fill our bed. You want to avoid just putting your new soil on top of the existing soil – it can seriously impede your plant roots from going down. Mix it up!

Raised beds give the gardener a jump on the growing season as they dry out faster after a snow or rain, and the soil warms at a faster pace than regular ground-level soil. It is easy to check the fertility of the soil within your bed and to apply any fertilizer you may need because you know how many square feet you are dealing with within the bed itself.

It's important to make your raised bed only as wide as you can reach across from each side. For me, my beds are four feet wide. I can easily reach two feet across to the middle – which is very important! One of the secrets to gardening in a raised bed is you never ever want to step in it! Soil compaction is a gardener's enemy!

Have you ever heard of block planting? It's relatively new in the gardening world, but it's benefits are astounding. I remember, as a little girl, following my Dad around the garden with my bucket of seeds. One seed spaced perfectly from another in a long row. Thirty feet of beets, fifty feet of beans. A nice walkway in between each row. A beautiful garden – brings back great memories!! But even better are the results you can get with block planting.

Take carrots, for example. By planting a carrot seed every three inches, every direction, you not only increase your yield up to five-fold, but the foliage will block out the sunlight to the weed seed in your soil. Without sun, your weeds cannot germinate! We are all for less weeding – for sure! Here are a few examples of how your raised beds will look during the growing season.




As you can see, I have been able to pack a lot of beautiful vegetables into my 4' x 8' raised bed. It is easy to reach into, I have installed four 1/4″ drip line with emitters every 6″ to put that moisture right where the plant can easily receive it. Mulch is necessary in most of my beds in the high tunnel. Colorado has very low humidity and great temperature fluctuations. The mulch allows us to keep that soil moist and cool in the hot sun and helps to shield the weed seeds from sunlight and germination. The taste quality of your crop is improved also. Think of it this way…have you ever been in your garden on a hot July day? Your corn plants had received an adequate watering that morning but now the foliage is drooping and they look thirsty? You are right! Not only has your water dissipated in the sun or wind, but the plant's taste is affected with the stress. A three inch layer of mulch would have helped protect your corn from the loss of the moisture, shield the weed seeds from germination, and make your crop taste better. Bingo!!

Compare the taste of your home-grown tomatoes to any store-bought one! There is none!

Happy gardening!

 

Flour Bin or Flower Bin?

We purchased our property in late 2004. I say “property” because it was vacant land with what realtors refer to as a pusher-downer house on it. The house was in such bad shape that it was not considered in the asking price of the property.

 

Little did we know, on that first day as we toured the place, the inside of the old house held a vast amount of treasures….even photograph albums of the family as it had grown over the years. We just couldn't push the house down, nor could we stand to throw all the old relics inside.

 

One of the old pieces of furniture was dragged to a storage shed where it stood, patiently waiting, for someone to spend time refinishing it. That time finally came! A couple of weeks ago I donned a respirator and a sander and began to strip the old paint off this beautiful pantry (for lack of a better word). It had stood right inside the entry door as you entered the old home and housed Mrs. Scott's recipes and special articles she had saved from the early 1900s.

 

There were multiple news articles showing how to cure meat inside the pantry. One of the recipes explained how to “put up sausage”. It called for “24 pounds of meat, 9 tablespoons of sage, 7 tablespoons of salt, 4 tablespoons of black pepper, 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Make into cakes, thoroughly cook without browning too much, and put into big-mouthed glass jars and cover with lard. In this way, it will keep indefinitely.” Wow!!! These people did not have access to refrigeration as we do now, so they had to be creative to keep meat year 'round.

 

There were newspapers from The Weekly Kansas City Star dated November 17, 1926 that lined the bottom of the area where flour was kept. I guess it kept the flour from slipping through the cracks in the bottom of the pantry. There was a brochure that touted Iron Day Drudgery is Unknown to the Woman Who Uses a Royal Self Heating Iron. I am sure that it was a great improvement to ironing in the early 1900s.

 

We had found three old kerosene lanterns on the property during those first days. The globes had broken over the years, I had imagined, but the Scott's family had fashioned a screen to protect the flame and make it usable.

 

We have had the lamps on display in our kitchen for years now. I had wondered, many times, what they had looked like when they were new. Lo and behold, inside the pantry came the answer – the lamps were called the New Sunshine Safety Lamps. They had been sold with a 15 day trial and were guaranteed for five years. Check out the beautiful globe the lamps had! May be on the ” look-out” for them in an antique store!

 

We found an interesting trial package of Walko's White Diarrhea Roup and Cholera Tablets for poultry. It had been sent as a trial package to the box holders on the mail route. It was still full of the tablets – never had been used. Full directions included….

 

On to the task at hand! I sanded the paint off the pantry and found it to be as cute as I had hoped it to be. It has a drop-down lid missing, but appears to be otherwise in pretty good shape. Back in the day, there was no such thing as a “finishing nail” as the heads on all the nails are big! I think that's what gives it character!

 

I measured the pantry and then ran around the kitchen to see where it might fit in the house. It will fit pretty well in the hallway where a quilt stand sits now. I am torn between putting the piece back in action as a “flour” bin, or painting it a vivid color and filling the drawers full of beautiful draping flowers….a “flower” bin. I believe Mrs. Scott, who passed decades ago, might be pretty happy to see her pantry back in the kitchen of her home (you got it, we fixed the old house up – just couldn't bear to tear it down!) I have been told that she was also quite a gardener, so either way I think she will be pleased!

What do you think?

 

Mrs. Scott's seeds

 

Hide!! It’s the Neighbor With All of the Zucchini!

You've been there – I know. You have either grown zucchini or you have a neighbor who has. Thinking that they will (surely) never all grow, you plant 4 or 5 zucchini plants and before you know it, you are loading up the truck and driving up and down the neighborhood trying to give them away. Right?

 

With zucchini, a little goes a long way. I normally plant one or two hills (with a few seeds in each hill), and then prune the emerging seed plants from the hill to one or two plants total. I do have neighbors who like a few zucchini, but the majority of my pickings end up being shredded and frozen for use all through the year. There are two recipes that are our ABSOLUTE favorites around here and were originally given to me by my neighbor, Jennifer.

Here is a bag of shredded zucchini taken right from the freezer from the end of the 2012 growing season

First is the Tastes Like Apple Zucchini Crisp. Not only does this recipe use eight cups of zucchini, (really helpful on those days that you check the garden and they are everywhere!) but, I have made this recipe on numerous times – served it as Apple Crisp – and have yet to have anyone know the difference. Even when asked, my hungry consumers look at me as if I am lying when I say, “did you know this is zucchini?” Try this recipe and see if you believe me!

Recipe #1, Tastes Like Apple Zucchini Crisp

8 cups peeled zucchini. I slice them like you would if you were using apples

3/4 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon if nutmeg

 

Topping:

1 1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 cup of flour

2/3 cup cold butter

Mix the first five ingredients well and pour into a 9 x13″ baking dish. For the topping, combine the brown sugar, oats, and flour – then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.

Sprinkle the topping mix over the zucchini mix and bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes. The smell of 'apples' baking will fill your kitchen!

 

The second recipe will appeal to the chocolate lover in you. The brownies are ooey, gooey – and stay moist for a long time.

Zucchini Brownies

2 cups of grated unpeeled zucchini

2 cups of flour

1 1/2 cups of sugar

1 teaspoon of salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoon baking sod

1/3 cup cocoa

2 teaspoons of vanilla

This is what the batter looks like as you stir it all up – note the small shreds of zucchini.

Mix all, place in a greased and floured 9 x 13″ pan and bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

 

If you want to frost these guys, combine 4 tablespoons of butter with 4 tablespoons of milk and a cup of granulated sugar. Boil for two minutes, add 2 cups of chocolate chips, stir until melted and pour over the warm brownies.

Ready to plant some zucchini this spring?? Just remember, if you don't want the neighbors hiding from you as you try to pass out your excess pickings, just plant what you think you will eat or freeze for the year. One trick I use is to pinch the orange zucchini blossoms off the plant when it seems like it is really in high production. The female flower is easy to spot – it will have the little round circular ball by the flower which will eventually become the zucchini. Just pinch it off, and the plant will never miss it.

There are many, many wonderful uses for this veggie, including casseroles and side dishes. Plant your seeds when all of the danger of frost has passed, and be sure to harvest one final time in the fall before the plant freezes. It is a tender annual and will be one of the first to die when old man winter comes knocking!

 

Echinacea – The Beautiful Flower with Herbal Properties

Every gardener loves a beautiful flower garden! We pour over the spring offerings of flower and vegetable catalogs that seem to appear in the mailbox on an almost-daily basis.

Echinacea, which might be better known to some as a “coneflower”, will give you season after season of striking blooms. It is a popular North American native and it's rosy-pink blooms resemble a daisy.

These plants are easy to grow here in Colorado. They are heat and drought tolerant, they can handle our full sun, and they will tolerate low fertility. They are hardy from zones 3-9, but they do ask that you provide well-drained soil. They do not like to keep their feet wet! They produce one solitary bloom on an erect stem which is excellent in a cut or dried flower arrangement.

Not only will this beautiful, hardy flower brighten your yard, but some species (E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, and E. pallida) are also prized commercially for their reported medical properties. Echinacea has been used as an immune stimulant, an anti-inflammatory, and as an aid in healing wounds.

While harvesting of the echinacea root is typically done in a commercial setting, there are classes available for the “average Joe” to learn how to harvest and process the plant at home. I took an Herbal class a year or so ago – and was amazed to learn how many wonderful properties plants (even weeds!) possess! Katie at the (check it out) Garden Fairy Apothecary in Elizabeth, Colorado teaches a wonderful class for those who want to get rid of the aspirin bottle for a more natural approach. No longer do we reach for a commercially prepared concoction with chemicals and additives if we can grow it and tincture a better alternative right at home!

You may want to consider adding echinacea to your landscape. It will return, bright and beautiful, year after year. And you just may take advantage if it's herbal properties one day!

 

Kale…..Who Knew?

My parents never grew kale in their garden. There wasn’t much that they missed growing in our garden, but I know for sure that kale was not a crop they planted.

The first time I saw this veggie, it was growing in a flower garden – so what a switch for me to be here, on a soap box, telling you that you should definitely grow this crop!

Kale is one of those crops anyone can successfully grow. It is a part of the cabbage family and it can ‘take’ the cold weather extremely well. Put it in full sun in the spring and you will be harvesting it in about two months. It really prefers cooler temperatures and is even sweetened by a touch of frost. A spring and fall crop of kale does extremely well in our zone 5 Colorado.

So, now you’ve grown the stuff. What do you do with it? If you let the kale leaves get too big, you’ll note that they will get bitter. Take care to harvest the young, tender leaves as they mature. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and calcium. It’s high in fiber, a super source of beta-carotene and also possesses carotenoids to help keep UV rays from damaging your eyes. OK, OK – I get that, but kale is not just one of those veggies you will sit down and eat by the bowl full in front of the TV!

Baked kale chips are amazingly delicious, and when my friend, Katie, told me about this recipe, I decided to try it that same night.

Baked Kale Chips

After harvesting a bunch of kale, wash and thoroughly dry the leaves. On a cutting board, remove and discard the center rib and then tear the leaf into bite-sized pieces. I like to put a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a plastic bag and toss the leaves in to coat. Place on a baking sheet, spreading the leaves apart so they are not overlapping. Sprinkle with sea salt and bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees turning and moving them around as they shrink to make sure they crisp evenly.

We like to top with grated Parmesan cheese – returning to the oven for an additional 5 to 6 minutes.

The first time I made kale chips, I was a bit hesitant. They are green for heaven’s sake! Amazingly, they were delicious – and as I picked up the dinner dishes, I watched as my husband tipped the paper towel to get the last crumbs.
Score!!!!!

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