Black-seeded Simpson lettuce and nasturtiums sowed in September.

Create a fall vegetable garden

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Part of the fall kitchen garden this year has bok choy and herbs leftover from summer.

Part of the fall kitchen garden this year has bok choy and herbs leftover from summer.

You can create a fall vegetable garden in Oklahoma and much of the South, but you should start when the weather is still warm. August and September are the best months to plant seeds and starter plants. Still, there’s a conundrum. Even in September, Oklahoma’s weather can be exceptionally warm, and some cold-weather vegetable favorites don’t want to start when temperatures are above 85F. Still, there are tricks you can use to make the vegetables think your weather is cooler.

Black-seeded Simpson lettuce and nasturtiums sowed in September.

Black-seeded Simpson lettuce and nasturtiums sowed in September.

Some vegetables like lettuce, kale, spinach, parsnips, rutabagas, beets and turnips don’t like warm weather. You can start leafy greens indoors under lights, but I often forget this step because I’m working so hard in the rest of the garden. So, here’s a trick I use to fool cool season vegetables into sprouting despite the weather. I place shredded leaves or homemade compost three inches thick and create a trench to sow the seeds. I water down this trench the day before I want to sow. It helps cool off the soil and makes it damp especially if you use shredded leaves. The leaves hold in moisture and make the soil ready for your seeds. Sow seeds at twice the depth of their size in the trench and don’t fill the trench all the way. Keep that area watered everyday, even twice a day if you have drying winds. Soon, you’ll see germination. As the seeds grow, thin plants giving them space to grow. Read seed packets for spacing requirements. Root crops like turnips, carrots and beets need more space to form than lettuce and other greens which can be grown to full size or grown as microgreens.

Ruby Swiss chard. Isn't it pretty?

Ruby Swiss chard. Isn’t it pretty?

The most difficult thing about growing a fall garden in a warm climate is keeping everything watered. Living on the prairie, we have heavy winds that are more of a problem with raised beds because they dry out faster than in-ground gardens. However, in raised beds you can control soil and amendments better.

Another problem you may encounter are late season hungry insects that will decimate cabbage and other brassicas. There are two great ways to handle these hungry critters. Plant a trap crop. Certain varieties of cabbage work well to keep cabbage butterfly larvae away from other crops. Or, you can use a row cover with hoops. This doesn’t work perfectly, but it helps. There are also stupid spotted cucumber beetles. Floating row covers do help with these too. I don’t spray for anything. Instead, I try to wait them out. Cooler weather is coming. Soon, insect pests get sluggish and die.

I sowed my seeds in late August and early September so the fall vegetable garden would be up and growing before the garden tour we had in October. Almost everything came up well except some of the lettuces. One red lettuce I sowed is just now getting larger so I transplanted several plants to grow in our new cold frame.

Yes, I enjoyed my other cold frame so much that I put another into use. I transplanted some of the smaller curly kale in there too because I thought about what Niki Jabbour from The Year Round Veggie Gardener and Savvy Gardening says about winter gardening. We don’t really grow in winter. There isn’t enough light, but we do harvest. Best to start with larger plants before we lose the light. In the other cold frame, some of the spinach is getting crowded out by the broccoli raab so I transplanted it too.

Greenhouse with two cold frames. The new one is on the left.

Greenhouse with two cold frames. The new one is on the left.

In the new cold frame we have, spinach, red lettuce, kale, and bright green lettuce. In the other cold frame is ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrots, parsnips, broccoli raab, lettuce and spinach. There are also some errant mustard greens that are trying to take over. I planted and harvested the mustard last year, but some of it went to seed, and I now have more.

Kale to transplant.

Kale to transplant into the cold frame.

Do you grow anything in cold frames? If so, please share with me your stories. I’d like to hear of your successes. I probably won’t do broccoli raab in there again. It grows too large for the cold frame top and is just now making the edible flowers. The foliage is crazy big.

If you’d like to know more about how we built the first cold frame, it’s all in my book, The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

 


Vegetable garden in early spring

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I know it’s been forever since we’ve chatted, but Oklahoma is sporting a very cool and wet spring. Until now, there hasn’t been much progress to report in the vegetable garden. I harvested peas and mache–corn salad–for supper tonight. I also have some radishes and several other varieties of lettuce. Not much production outside of that. In the few warm days we had, my spinach and tatsoi bolted. I ate them anyway and gave some to the chickens.

Variegated 'Alaska' nasturtiums

Variegated ‘Alaska’ nasturtiums

I planted all of my tomatoes. Some didn’t appreciate the cooler weather, and the rain washed one away. Part of the larger vegetable garden is on a hill. I guess I didn’t plant it in the ground securely enough. Things happen. Gardeners kill plants, and then we buy more. We learn not to weep over small deaths, like when a cutworm or rain removes one of your plants for you.

one strange and beautiful pea blossom (1 of 1)

A strange and beautiful pea blossom on my snow peas.

I’ve been using the Jobe’s organic all purpose fertilizer in the vegetable garden when I dig holes to transplant. I just work it into the soil. I like it because it’s granulated and doesn’t blow around. I’ll give the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers another dose when they start blooming. I also like Jobe’s tomato food.

View of the large veggie and cutting garden. The plants are still very small.

View of the large veggie and cutting garden. The plants are still very small.

I planted the ‘Glass Gem’ corn Carol from May Dreams Gardens sent me. I also made half of my large vegetable garden a cutting garden because three people don’t need such a large a vegetable garden. Remember I have the potager too. In the cutting garden, I sowed seeds of cosmos, several kinds of zinnias and sunflowers, celosia, nicotiana and red amaranth. This week I thinned the plants so they have room to grow. You might notice, above, that we used horse panel fencing cut in half instead of chicken wire around the garden. The chicken wire was so flexible it was hard to keep the garden edge trimmed. Plus, we tore up the chicken wire with the weed eater. We hope this arrangement will be easier. The red okra is up and growing. It has its first true leaves. I also planted vining and bush green beans. That garden is on a hill which explains why one tomato plant couldn’t hold on. You can see the slant of the vegetable garden in the background of the photo below.

New garden cart with assorted plants.

New garden cart with assorted plants and fertilizer.

My orange tree is performing well. I have tiny oranges on it.

Tiny orange on my potted tree. Republic of Texas.

Tiny orange on my potted tree of Republic of Texas.

I overwintered it in the greenhouse, and I was afraid I would lose it to black aphids. I began spraying with Neem oil and another organic spray to save it. I also doused it with water twice a day first to try and convince the aphids to take a hike. I barely kept them under control, and at one point, the tree lost most of its leaves. It still leafed back out and bloomed. This is one tough orange tree. Once the pot was outside, everything settled down, and it’s performing well. Lady beetles are the best garden aphid eliminators.

Ruby Swiss chard. Isn't it pretty?

Ruby Swiss chard. Isn’t it pretty?

We’ve received more than fourteen inches of rain in the month of May so far. It is raining again today, rain is forecast for the entire Memorial Day weekend. My plants and I need more sun, but I won’t complain. The spigot will soon be switched to the off position. In the meantime, I plan to soak up all this moisture. Oklahoma has been too dry for too long.

Rain chain flowing with water in Oklahoma is a sight to see.

Rain chain flowing with water in Oklahoma is a sight to see.

Hugs to all of you and keep growing.


Planted seeds today

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Cabbage, onions and poppies in the kitchen garden. Planted seeds today

Cabbage, onions and poppies in the kitchen garden

I planted seeds today in between the snows. Snow last weekend, and snow in the forecast for tomorrow. Then, seventies later in the week. If I don’t get the chard and other cold crops planted now, the weather in Oklahoma will get too hot too soon. I want beets, radishes, lettuce, spinach and other tender spring greens for salads and such.

Here’s the seeds I sowed directly outdoors in my spring vegetable garden the first week of March. This sowing makes me one week behind my normal dates. Let’s hope for a long and cool spring.

Beets ‘Blood Red’
Calabrese ‘Green Magic’
Chard (Bieta) ‘Blonda Di Lione’
Chard ‘Flamingo Pink’
Kale ‘Tuscan’
Kale Chinese ‘Kailaan’
Lettuce (Lattuca) ‘Franchi’
Lettuce ‘Parella Rossa’
Mache ‘Large Leaved’
Nasturtium ‘Alaska’
Nasturtium ‘Mahogany’
Pac Choy ‘Canton Dwarf’
Radish ‘Gaudry’
Snap peas ‘Sugar Snap’
Spinach ‘Merlo Nero’

Calendula is easy to grow from seed sown directly outdoors.

Calendula is easy to grow from seed sown directly outdoors.

I’m saving my other cold crops for the fall garden. I’ll hit my local nursery today for some organic potting soil, and my next post will again be about starting seeds indoors and when you should start. I also plan to buy some calendula seeds at the nursery, along with onion sets and potatoes. I’ll do the potatoes in bags like I did last year.

Potatoes in Smart Pots are easy to grow. Just make sure you have water for them.

Potatoes in Smart Pots are easy to grow. Just make sure you have water for them.


Favorite beautiful herb Holy Basil (1 of 1)

The vegetable garden is completely out of control

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A very messy late garden, but better after Bill weedeated the grass in rows.

A very messy late garden, but better after Bill weedeated the grass in rows.

While I was away so much this summer, the vegetable garden got completely out of control. The grass overwhelmed everything, but my husband, Bill, used the string trimmer to bring back the big garden. Believe it or not, warts and all, it’s much better now. Because I have a lot of work to do, writing-wise, for the next couple of weeks, I fear the harvest of late peppers and tomatoes will be the last one for this summer.

There’s a lesson in this. Don’t plant a big veggie garden when you’re going to be out of town a lot promoting a book.

Cleanup of the potager.

Cleanup of the potager.

Another lesson. There’s always next year, and I can still plant for fall. Beautiful, lovely fall with moderated temperatures. I’ve already started lettuce and spinach seeds indoors. I transplanted them along with sowing chard and kale seeds yesterday when the weather cooled. I’m also planting beets and turnips from seed. If home sooner, I would’ve planted more bush beans to be ready just as fall comes upon us.

I placed shredded leaves, about one, five-gallon bucket per raised bed, in the kitchen garden.

I placed shredded leaves, enough to fill about one, five-gallon bucket per raised bed, in the kitchen garden.

As for the potager, I completely rehabbed it. I pulled out everything that was overgrown and topped it off with shredded leaves. Anything I don’t plant for winter will be covered in chicken manure in a couple of weeks too. Then, over the cold months, the earthworms will work the leaves and manure down into the soil, and all will be ready at the end of February when the cycle begins all over again.

Another view of the rehabbed kitchen garden.

Another view of the rehabbed kitchen garden.

How is your garden doing? Mine is a beautiful mess. And, it’s okay. Oh, one more thing, purple holy basil is the most beautiful herb I grew this summer. You should try it next year. Collect seeds as they mature or  buy some online and then sow in place next spring. Here’s a shot of holy basil close up. Gorgeous stuff, isn’t it?

Beautiful shot of purple holy basil from this year.

Beautiful shot of purple holy basil from this year.


News about The 20-30 Something Garden Guide

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Our friend, Jennifer, who is twenty-one and just starting to garden.

Our friend, Jennifer, who is twenty-one and just starting to garden.

One of the best parts of an author’s job is spreading the news about one’s book. Not for sales so much, but because you get to meet so many people who are as enthusiastic about your subject as you are. I talked to reporters all over the country about Millennials and what drives them to be the fastest growing group of garden buyers in the county. Before I wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff, I did a lot of research on this exciting and energetic group of gardeners. What I found was that they were very engaged with the environment, and like so many of us, they want to grow their own food even if it’s in pots on their balconies and patios.

You don’t have to grow everything you eat after all–unless you want to of course.

I was fortunate to talk about 20-30 Somethings and their love of gardening with George Weigel of PennLive through The Patriot News. 

I thought you might enjoy it so I’ll share it here. I may share some of the other online stories from the rest of the year too. Thanks for reading.


Vegetables harvested after vacation

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Dear Carol and Mary Ann,

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.

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.

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.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

Grab the badge and join us in our garden adventures.

So, that’s my harvest. Good stuff all from a few packets of seed. For more vegetable gardening tips and ideas, see The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff.

That’s all from the Red Dirt Ranch for now. What’s growing your garden? Share your links below so we can visit.

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Beautiful vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden

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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. Beautiful vegetable garden at the Idaho Botanical Garden.

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.

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.

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.

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.