It’s hard to take a trip in the summer. when you’re a gardener. It’s even harder when you’re a vegetable gardener. Most vegetables are annuals or tropicals grown as annuals, and they want to produce like crazy in summer’s heat. Oklahoma also had abundant rain this year. and the vegetables are all the more happy for it. I did this crazy thing and planted five rows of tomatoes with at least eight plants each. I started most of these from seed, and I made the classic mistake and planted too many plants.
Tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, corn and a few potatoes are all stacked on the kitchen counter.
I know better, but I couldn’t stop myself. So, this is a going to a be a tomato year to the max. I also harvest one of the three kinds of garlic I planted last fall. I can’t think of the name right now, but it’s a hardneck variety. Beautiful stuff. I’m using it in a shrimp sauté tonight with spaghetti squash as the base instead of noodles. It should be good. We’re also going to have the eggplant. I’ve fought potato beetles all spring on that poor eggplant, and I’m finally getting a few fruits for all of my labor. I grew the eggplant from seed too.
Corn and eggplant I grew in the garden this year.
There’s corn too. Yummy, yummy corn. I knew it was ready when the I found corn husks in the yard. The bad raccoons are on the corn prowl. Well, I harvested most of it. They will be sad they lost out. I don’t have squash or cucumbers yet because I planted them late. I waited on the squash because I’m trying to outwit the squash bugs, and I simply forgot cucumbers until recently.
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Today we visited the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, and I saw this beautiful vegetable garden. I thought you’d like to see it too.
Field fence arbor and vegetables at the Idaho Botanical Garden.
Whenever I travel, I always try to visit the local botanical garden. I get such inspiration from their plantings. You can see new varieties of vegetables and flowers to brighten your own garden. Botanical gardens often have AAS plant trials, and it’s a good way to see how new plants perform in a particular area.
I just thought this vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden was so pretty this time of year.
They also have enough money in their budget to do things in a big way. You can see different planting styles, structures and techniques like waterwise gardening and then adapt these ideas to your own personal space.
The herb garden with two kinds of basil along with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall, or shade cloth in the hot summer.
Above is part of the herb garden complete with picket fence. In the back of this photo is kale and cardoons with hoops for frost cloth in the spring and fall to provide protection from freezing temperatures. In the summer, the same hoops can be used for shade cloth, or for bug protection as part of an integrated pest management system.
This circular garden is especially nice. Kales and chard are the stars here.
So, when you get a chance to travel, try out the local botanical garden. From North Carolina to Idaho, there’s one near you.
If you’re already tired of watering those containers on your deck or patio, install a drip irrigation system. Summer containers thirst for drip irrigation. Because we have more than twenty containers on our back deck, we used two kits from our local box store when we installed our drip system.
Even strawberries in a large container like this whiskey barrel benefit from drip irrigation.
I couldn’t grow these blueberries in containers without drip irrigation. These have overwintered on my back deck for three seasons.
More summer garden tips:
Use large containers. The whiskey barrel, above, is ideal.
Fertilize now with a balanced, organic fertilizer. You can use a manure or compost tea, or you can sprinkle dry organic fertilizer on top of potting soil. Containers leach out nutrients because they are watered every day–sometimes, twice a day.
Pick any fruit as soon as possible to keep plants bearing and disease free.
Place compost or other biodegradable mulch at the base of plants to keep roots cool and comfortable.
Stake or tie up any vegetables wandering onto the ground beneath your containers to prevent damage and disease.
Watch our for insects. Caterpillars and worms are very likely mid-summer. So are striped potato beetles. Frass is an indication that problems are afoot.
I hope these tips keep your containers happy for the rest of the summer. Install drip irrigation for best results.
I have so much to tell you for the vegetable garden update this month. It has rained almost weekly in Oklahoma since late spring. These aren’t true drought busters, but still good news for the vegetables, herbs and fruit grown in the potager and the rest of the garden. It’s bad news for grassy weeds. They’re growing like . . . well, weeds, and keeping up with them is more work than almost any gardener can do.
Pole beans climbing the teepee.
The green bean harvest is ongoing, but I planted squash late to avoid squash bugs. The little plants are up , but still small. There are also two kinds of melons growing, one being ‘Collective Farm Woman.’ I also noticed in the larger veggie garden, i.e., the jungle, that I have volunteer watermelons. This happens when you grow heirlooms.
Some of the French green beans I’ve harvested.
The garlic is ready or nearly so. I’ll harvest it next week. The potatoes in bags have been very successful in spite of all the traveling I’ve done this month and last. Yes, my son watered while I was gone, but we also had rain which helped more than anything. The potatoes are blooming so I’ll be harvesting soon.
Garlic ready to harvest and ‘Gray’ zucchini which actually does have gray on its leaves. The grassy weeds are also difficult to fight.
I planted heirloom yellow crookneck squash and ‘Gray’ zucchini because they are considered more resistant to squash bugs. I also planted seeds of a ‘Lemon’ zucchini that was given as a bonus in an order. I inspect the plants everyday for squash bug problems. I planted the squash, melons and cucumbers in the potager this year for crop rotation.
‘Carmen’ sweet Italian frying pepper.
In the big garden is corn, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and hot peppers. Italian frying peppers are isolated from the hot peppers in case I want to save seed. I also planted some zinnias and sunflowers in the larger garden for beauty and to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.
One of the sunflowers in the Drop Dead Read collection from Botanical Interests seeds.
I had an infestation of striped potato beetles on my eggplant. I picked them off for two weeks, but I finally decided to spray them with pyrethrum. I waited until there were no other insects on the plants, and I only sprayed what was needed directly on the potato beetles. I hated to spray even though pyrethrum is organic, because it is a broad spectrum insecticide. I try never to use even organic insecticides unless I must. I did save the eggplants which are already looking better this morning.
The jungle, a/k/a the large veggie garden. It is full of tomatoes, hot peppers, green pole beans, sunflowers, zinnias, eggplant, corn and okra.
Well, that’s it in this report from Oklahoma. What do you have growing in your garden this month? Join our Garden Club and tell us what you’ve got growing.
My son smoothing soil after planting garlic. You get good soil from adding compost and manure to your garden.
I really hesitated writing this post, but my thoughts and reservations about Miracle-Gro® have percolated for years. It’s now time to write about this blue/green brew. Let’s begin with a conversation I have with nearly every gardener I meet. It usually goes something like this:
Gardener pats the soil. “The [insert plant] is planted. I’ll just come back later and give it some Miracle-Gro®. Right?”
“Well, I wouldn’t. I never use Miracle-Gro®.”
Gardener, with a confused look, “Doesn’t the plant need to be fed?”
“Maybe not. How’s your soil? Have you tested it?”
“Test my soil? Why and how would I do that?”
Me, mentally banging my head against the garden fence. “We don’t feed plants. We nurture the soil in which they grow. Testing your soil shows whether it has the right balance of nutrients and its texture from clay, silt, sand or more likely, a mixture of the three. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service. These nice folks will help you with everything you need to complete a soil test.”
The conversation either ends with the gardener thanking me, or with them drifting away still determined to drench their plants with this chemical fertilizer. Miracle-Gro®, often overused, leaches nitrogen and phosphorous into storm drains where it eventually meets up with ponds and ground water. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous causes algae bloom and is called nutrient pollution. Many soils already have plenty of potassium and phosphorous so they may not need more, and both nutrients remain in soil for a long period of time. So, test your soil before using any fertilizer.
Miracle-Gro® has an N-P-K ratio of 24-.8-16 for the single packet serving you mix and spray or drench. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (Scotts) also makes other formulations along with potting soils and other products like Osmocote®–which I also don’t use–but today, I’m only focusing upon their liquid fertilizer. The nitrogen, potassium and phosphate are derived from ammonium sulphate (ammonia treated with sulfuric acid and often a by product of coal production), potassium phosphate, potassium chloride, urea and urea phosphate. This is information I gleaned from the label online.
My shredded leaf piles that I use for mulch and as a compost starter.
As a group, Americans hardly know where our food comes from anymore, and the idea that we need a fluorescent fertilizer to grow plants is yet another way we’ve been manipulated. Does Miracle-Gro® work? Yes, I suppose it does, but at what cost? Instead of dosing our plants with fertilizer, shouldn’t we enrich our soil and help earthworms and other beneficials in the bargain?
The potager last fall. You don’t need Miracle-Gro®.
The thing I hate most about Miracle-Gro® isn’t that their parent company, Scotts is aligned with Monsanto–although that makes my skin crawl–it’s that Scotts made a fortune making gardeners feel they need glow-in-the-dark fertilizer to grow. Scotts has unleashed a variety of commercials on the public. They have products to sell, but you don’t have to buy them. An early commercial I remember showed a dingy gardener with a dead plant. The idea was that if only the gardener had used Miracle-Gro®, their plant would have lived and thrived. Later commercials compared a normal plant in a pot with one that appeared to be pumped up on steroids. The steroid hopping plant was–you guessed it–given Miracle-Gro®. Egad, do we want our plants to look like they went to the gym and lifted heavy things? I know I don’t.
However, Scotts’ newest commercials irk me the most. One shows two Millennials growing their first garden. They are treated like idiots, and trust me, the most educated group of people on the planet isn’t dumb. The couple talks about how their plants died until they found Miracle-Gro®. It also shows them spraying it on everything like it’s just water. Their newest commercial incarnation is called “Grow Something Greater.” I’m not going to link to it because I don’t want to give it more page views. It’s smart, and the company did its marketing by tapping into things Millennials care about including doing something greater. The commercial shows 20-30 Somethings eating with each other in celebration. They show flirting. They show herbs on a fence. Don’t fall for it.
If you believe Miracle-Gro®, my grandparents wouldn’t have been able to feed themselves without it. I promise you they did. My grandmother never talked to me about feeding plants. She did speak a lot about the soil as she ran it through her fingers testing its texture.
If your soil is well and healthy, your plants will be too. Think of plants as people for a moment. We know that if we eat salad, complex carbohydrates and protein while limiting our sugar intake, we are usually healthy. A body with a healthy immune system is able to fight off viruses and bad bacteria. Sure, we sometimes need an antibiotic, but we shouldn’t use them all the time. Furthermore, being loaded up on steroids, i.e., too much fertilizer makes us sick. Steroids lower our immune system’s ability to fight infection and viruses. Plants are not so different. They need the best soil to stay their healthiest. I’m not saying they never need fertilizer, but the truth is, they don’t need much–unless you’re growing in containers that leach out nutrients when you water. I use alfalfa, manure and mixed organic fertilizers when needed, but these vitamins are made with ingredients that break down and enrich the soil naturally. Good soil full of compost and beneficial fungi helps your plants fight off infections and viruses. Any fertilizer is simply a vitamin pill.
Making manure tea.
My gardens look healthy and happy without a bit of Miracle-Gro®. I haven’t used it since I was a new gardener over 32 years ago. Yes, I used it then because I thought I had to. I guess that’s why I’m on such a rant. You see, Miracle-Gro® made me feel as if I needed them when I was only nineteen years old, and my grandmother lived far away. It was only after I learned more about gardening that I realized the quickest solution isn’t always the best. If you want to use a foliar or liquid drench fertilizer, use something good for your plants and your soil like Authentic Haven Brand Moo Poo tea, or John’s Recipe™ by Ladybug Natural Brand™. You can also make your own manure tea. I show you how in the book. You don’t need Miracle-Gro®, and they don’t need real gardeners either.
I finally figured out how to make a Mr. Linky type of list for our Dear Friend and Gardener posts. I’m using InLinkz because I blog on WordPress instead of Blogger. We’ll see how it goes.
Isn’t this romaine a/k/a cos lettuce simply beautiful with the sunlight behind it’s tender leaves?
In the garden, things are really starting to grow. My pole beans are climbing their poles. The tomatoes are setting down roots, and the small eggplant plants are barely surviving. Maybe I put the eggplant out too early and too small. We had a lot of unseasonably cold weather after I planted them. Oh well, these things happen. It’s supposed to get hot this week. I say bring it.
Garlic I planted last fall with red and green leaf lettuce.
We are inundated with lettuce and tatsoi right now. It’s all so good, and the spring or green onions are delicious. I’ve made Grandma Nita’s wilted lettuce salad several times. Here’s the recipe if anyone wants to make it.
Grandma Nita’s Wilted Lettuce Salad
3 slices bacon (or three tablespoons of a good vegetable oil)
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 teaspoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Dash of salt
Four cups of leaf lettuce like Black Seeded Simpson – rinsed, dried and
torn into pieces
5 green onions with tops, thinly sliced
1. Fry bacon, remove from skillet, crumble and set aside.
2. To the still-hot bacon drippings, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir over medium heat until hot and bubbly. (Be careful during this step so that the drippings don’t splatter you.)
3. In a large bowl, combine the lettuce and green onions. Add the warm dressing and toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon and enjoy.
I’ve also expanded my salad repertoire. Last night, I made one with leaf lettuce, spring onions, mandarin oranges, dried cherries and pecans. I also made my own poppyseed dressing. We hardly ever buy bottled dressings anymore. It’s so easy to whip up something quick after the salad greens are washed. As for washing, I use a salad spinner like this Progressive CSS-2 Green Collapsible Salad Spinner – 3 Quart Capacity. Mine is an older model, but I like that it collapses for easier storage.
The larger vegetable garden. It’s hard to believe these tiny plants will grow into towers of great tasting vegetables in less than two months.
Last week, I went through the larger vegetable garden and weeded everything. I still need to place straw as mulch between the remaining rows. My pole beans weren’t quite large enough to being attaching them to the poles. When I do this, I will use Luster Leaf Rapiclip Light Duty Soft Wire Tie 839 because it’s easier on the plants than twine, and it doesn’t seem to slip. I use it for all of my roses too. As I hoed the garden, I also hilled up the soil around the sweet corn and side-dressed it with manure. Corn is one of those high maintenance diva plants in the garden, but it’s worth the trouble. Now, that we have hotter weather, I think I’ll sow cucumber seeds in the potager and okra seeds in the larger garden. I noticed my sunflowers and zinnias are up and growing well in the larger garden. I think having flowers in the vegetable garden just makes sense to increase pollinator activity and also, beautify the space–not that vegetable gardens aren’t beautiful anyway.
Things in the garden are heating up this week, and I’m traveling to Austin to be on Central Texas Gardener–I’m thrilled to say–and I’m doing a radio appearance on Field and Feast on Austin’s local NPR affiliate. I will also be at The Natural Gardener, one of Austin’s best nurseries, where I’ll speak on all things edible. I hope you’re both having a wonderful spring.
For any of our gardening friends who want to join in on the fun this month, join up by adding a link to your blog below. Leave a comment here too if you’re so inclined. That way I can find and visit you!
Black Seeded Simpson and red lettuce with garlic. I planted the garlic last fall. It will be ready for harvest this spring.
When I was a new vegetable gardener, I was scared to grow any vegetables I couldn’t directly sow outdoors. I was afraid to start seeds inside, and who could blame me? I was new at this gardening adventure. So, I scoured the nursery catalogs looking for any seeds that I could sow directly in the ground. Here’s the list I came up with long ago.
Salad bowl I grew for The 20-30 Something Garden Guide last year.
2. Spinach. Although our cool spring weather is very short to grow spinach, I get a nice fall crop every year. If you live in a cooler area, spinach is one of those greens that tastes so much better from the garden.
3. Tatsoi. I simply love this Asian green. You can direct sow it, and it will easily come up and grow.
4. Radishes. There is nothing easier to grow than a radish. I grew ‘Purple Plum’ this year, and it was simply the prettiest radish I’ve ever grown.
5. Onion sets. You can grow onions from seed too, but it takes so much longer. Instead, try onion sets. I grow purple ones mostly because I can buy yellow and white organic onions at the store, and I don’t have the space to deal with them. Onion sets are just immature plants so they’re not really seeds, but you set them out at the same time. Fresh green onions are a real delicacy from the garden.
6. Peas. Whether you’re growing edible podded peas like snow peas or sugar snap, or you’re growing shelling peas, know that peas are super easy to grow. Children especially like sowing peas because, like beans, they are easy for their small fingers to handle. There is nothing like peas from the garden. If you have a very short spring season, try sugar snap or snow peas first. You can always plant shelling peas next spring or fall.
Late Spring Into Summer:
Green, bush beans.
1. Beans, any type, pole or bush. What’s the difference between pole and bush beans? Pole beans bear throughout the season and need support to do their thing. Bush beans put all of their energy into a harvest that lasts about a month before plants tire or become diseased. I grow both types, but I like bush beans best because they are so easy to pick. However, I grew a beautiful dark purple pole bean last year that I’m very fond of. To get a harvest throughout the season, plant bush beans every two weeks. Also, if you want your harvest to last, pick beans when they’re young. Once pole or bush beans begin to ripen their pods, any additional harvest is over. Whether you’re growing them for green (immature) beans, or waiting to shell and eat them, beans are super easy to grow. Some of my favorite varieties are:
‘Blue Lake 274 or 47′–55 days. If you want the traditional round podded green bean like those in the can or freezer bag, ‘Blue Lake’ is for you. It is still my husband’s favorite green bean although I’ve kinda moved on. ‘Blue Lake FM1k’ is a pole type of this variety.
‘Contender’–40-45 days. I don’t like the flavor as much as some other beans because ‘Contender’ is very mild. However, I’ve listed it here becaues it matures more quickly than many other bean varieties.
‘Kentucky Wonder’–57 days. ‘Kentucky Wonder’ comes in both pole and bush bean varieties. It’s a great bean for many reasons including the flavor. The pods are flatter than some of the other beans, but the plant holds the beans up off of the ground making for easier picking.
‘Dragon Tongue’–60 days. This is my favorite bean just for looks. The pods are so pretty I can hardly harvest them. ‘Dragon Tongue’ makes a great green bean and is wonderful harvested later when beans are mature.
Bumblebee pollinating cucumber blossom.
2. Cucumbers. Whatever type of cucumber you decide to grow, they are pretty easy. Choose seeds of varieties that are disease resistant and know that the bitterness in cucumbers is what deters cucumber beetles. So, pickling cucumbers often have less trouble than slicing types. I’ve also grown ‘Lemon Cuke’ and ‘Dragon’s Egg,’ and they both fared well. Note that you can still eat pickling cucumbers out of hand, but their skin tends to be spiny so you may want to rub these off with a towel before slicing, or you can peel the skin which will take away some of their bitterness.
3. Melons. This group includes any melons you want to grow. We like ‘Ambrosia’ cantaloupe in our house because my husband doesn’t find it as difficult to digest. I think ‘Tuscany’ looks delicious too. I’ve grown ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon along with other melons, but I must be honest…I have trouble growing watermelon. I don’t know why.
4. Corn. Although corn is not the easiest crop to grow, the seeds are very simple to sow outside. I’m not going to lie–corn is labor intensive and a heavy feeder. You’ll need to top dress it with compost and manure or another type of high nitrogen fertilizer, and corn needs soil hilled up around it to keep stalks from blowing over in the wind. Still, fresh corn tastes like nothing like that you buy in the stores.
Summer squash container at Sunset Magazine.
5. Summer and winter squash. I don’t grow much winter squash because I just don’t have the room. Plus, we aren’t as “into” it as we are summer squash. Summer squash, including yellow varieties and green zucchini are among my favorite plants. I grow organically so I’m waiting until mid-summer to plant my squash. I’m hoping the squash bugs will have moved on by then. One can hope…. I did find that ‘Gray’ zucchini is extremely resistant to squash bugs as is the heirloom ‘Yellow Crookneck.’ I grow both of these in my garden.
‘Bowling Red’ okra is a red heirloom variety.
6. Okra. I love okra any way it is prepared. Fried is of course my favorite because my grandmother and mom both made it this way. I adore ‘Burgundy Red’ okra because of its color and tenderness. ‘Bowling Red’ is wonderful too, but you must pick it early because pods quickly toughen. The old standby ‘Clemson Spineless 80′ is a great variety too. I’ve also grown ‘Annie Oakley’ with success.
These are the easiest seeds to sow directly in the ground, and it’s time to plant those summer crops. Let’s get growing, shall we?