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.

 


Growing Glass Gem Corn

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My favorite ear of 'Glass Gem' corn is purple and gold. I just can't get over how beautiful it all is.

My favorite ear of ‘Glass Gem’ corn is purple and gold. I just can’t get over how beautiful it all is.

‘Glass Gem’ is one unique corn, and I’m so glad I grew it this year. Carol from May Dreams Gardens gave me some kernels last spring from the ‘Glass Gem’ corn she grew in her garden in Indiana. Before this summer, I always grew sweet corn, but never flint corn that can be made into cornmeal, or popped as popcorn. ‘Glass Gem’ is a heritage variety that originated in Oklahoma and is easy to grow. It is an open-pollinated seed selected over many years from various heirloom corns. It is not a hybrid. It is not sweet corn. It is the most beautiful plant I’ve ever grown.

Several different ears of 'Glass Gem' corn.

Several different ears of ‘Glass Gem’ corn.

In spite of torrential rain and a cooler-than-usual spring in my garden, my ‘Glass Gem’ corn sprouted and grew. Because it comes from heirloom varieties and is open-pollinated, don’t expect the ears to be uniform in color, size and shape. This is part of their charm. I ended with all different colors and ears in all sizes. The pollination was better on some ears than others, but all of it is beautiful. I will grow it again next spring because I am dazzled. Shucking this corn was like opening presents on Christmas morning with each ear a special and beautiful surprise.

All the variations of 'Glass Gem' corn I grew in my garden this year. Dee Nash 20-30 Something Garden Guide.

All the variations of ‘Glass Gem’ corn I grew in my garden this year.

‘Glass Gem’ corn is so popular it has its own Facebook page where people post photos of their corn. Not too many vegetables have their own page. Gardeners are taking this corn and then selecting their favorite kernels to refine it further to suit their needs. Some want more compact plants while others want certain color ranges. I just love their creativity. This is gardening’s great legacy, the ability to control one’s food supply, at least in part.

'Glass Gem' corn

‘Glass Gem’ corn

I’m drying the ears I grew, and our family will pop some of the kernels as popcorn. I’ll also save some for next spring. If you want to buy some kernels for yourself, try Native Seeds Search. Here is more information about the history of this amazing corn. Oh yes, I’ll grow this again and again because it was so much fun. Grow some with your kids next summer, and introduce them to the wild variety and pleasure that only gardening can bring.


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.


"We grow organically." A sign from our friends at Guilford Gardens. I couldn't agree more.

Buying seeds and the cold frame

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Just a quickie. It’s been so long since I’ve written a post for this veggie blog, but I wanted to steer you over to a post I wrote on buying seeds for Red Dirt Ramblings. Not much veggie growing going on here except in the cold frame. I do have some mustard, kale, lettuce and spinach growing in there. The mustard is ready to harvest. As you can see, I have to water my cold frame during the winter because it’s so dry in Oklahoma. That can be tricky so I use the hose we installed in the greenhouse. It just stretches to cold frame outside. Before that, I would hook up the hose with the quick connect, water, take everything apart and drain it.

It’s a pain in the rear, but in a climate where we can go from 50F to 2F if an afternoon, it’s necessary. Trust me, a frozen faucet is bad news.

Watering plants in the cold frame.

Watering plants in the cold frame.

Have a beautiful day, and if you’re interested in seeds and seed catalogs, head on over to RDR.


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.


The great tomato palooza

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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 in one great tomato palooza.

Tomatoes, tomatoes everywhere! It’s more than an abundant harvest at this Oklahoma red dirt ranch. It’s a tomato palooza, all because the head gardener and planner made a rookie mistake even though she’s gardened for 30+ years. You would think that someone who wrote The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff wouldn’t have fallen for the oldest trick in the world, but she did. I confess. I overplanted, and here’s how it happened. I always start seeds for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant along with flowers I can’t find locally in the spring . I also buy two or three tomato plants from my local nursery, like ‘Rutgers’, ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Supersteak’, proven varieties that perform especially well in Oklahoma. So, I usually plant about twenty tomato plants in total, some are determinate and others indeterminate. That way, I get a good crop of tomatoes all at once which makes my mother happy, and I also get a steady harvest from the indeterminates over the entire season.

'Black Krim' tomato sliced and ready to eat.

‘Black Krim’ tomato sliced and ready to eat.

However, this year, I got sucked into the happy neurosis of seed starting by names like ‘Pink Furry Boar’, ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Sherry’s Sweetheart.’ When all these young plants I’d nurtured from their first days grew into larger seedlings, I managed to whittle things down to three plants apiece. You can only imagine how hard it is to cull seedlings, one-by-one, but I did it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Here are the varieties I grew this year excluding the three or four plants I bought at my local nursery. I’ll give you my quick reviews next to each variety. First, the cherry tomatoes:

  1. ‘Black Cherry’–Absolutely delicious. Makes larger fruit than some of the other cherry varieties and a little less yield, but cherry tomatoes always produce too much anyway.
  2. ‘Sungold F-1’–Still one of the best yellow tomatoes ever produced. Delicious sweet flavor. Beautiful color.
  3. ‘Sweet 100 F-1’–Classic tomato flavor. Red fruit. Huge yield.
  4. ‘Sweet Gold F-1’–More orange than golden once ripe. Larger fruit than on ‘Sungold’ and sweeter. Delicious.

Then, there are the oddities:

  1. ‘Pink Furry Boar’–Super cute, medium-sized pink tomato. Taste is pretty good and skin is delicate. Not my absolute favorite tomato though. Probably won’t grow it again.
  2. Sherry’s Sweet Heart‘–Red fruit is distinctly pointed on the bottom and somewhat heart shaped. The taste is good. I might grow it again. However, ‘Lumpy Red’ tomato will probably win out next year.
  3. ‘Purple Dragon’–Prettiest tomato I’ve ever grown. When ripe, it’s purple near the stem and golden yellow on bottom. See below.
'Purple Dragon' tomato is the size of a medium egg and is the prettiest tomato I've ever grown.

‘Purple Dragon’ tomato is the size of a medium egg and is the prettiest tomato I’ve ever grown.

The Heirlooms:

  1. ‘Rutgers’–After some research, I see that the ‘Rutgers’ I’m growing may not be the one I grew a few years ago. It’s done okay anyway. Nice, round red fruits with a good acid balance. I like slightly acidic tomatoes. You may like super sweet ones. Pick accordingly. I’m also making a note here to try Ramapo‘ next year. I wonder if it will become another favorite. It’s considered the true Jersey tomato.
  2. ‘Black Krim’–Huge fruits that are black to pinkish when ripe. ‘Black Krim’ has really outdone itself this year producing a ton of fruit. The taste is very good and sweeter than I usually like. However, it’s a beautiful tomato and performs well in hot summers.
  3. ‘Abe Lincoln’ –Consistently round, medium sized, red fruits. Excellent producer. Fruit has slightly tough skin, but delicious and acidic. Old-time tomato taste. It’s an heirloom and indeterminate so expect fruit over a long period.
The perfect weekend breakfast, two slices of whole grain toast, two poached eggs and a 'St. Pierre' tomato sliced.

The perfect weekend breakfast, two slices of whole grain toast, two poached eggs and a ‘St. Pierre’ tomato sliced.

Basic tomatoes:

  1. ‘Roma’–Very disappointed in this one. It has consistently had blossom end rot where none of the other tomatoes have. I won’t be growing the plain ‘Roma’ anymore. I’ll replace it with another Italian tomato.
  2. ‘Super Sioux’–Good, basic slicer. Taste is very good. Nice round tomatoes, medium size. Plants are considered semi-determinate. I can attest that this tomato does perform well in hot and dry conditions. I often grow it.
  3. ‘Saint Pierre’–Wins hands down as the best tomato I’ve grown this year. It is a French salad tomato, and I bought the seeds from Franchi Seeds of Italy. I can’t say enough nice things about this wonderful red tomato. It’s isn’t a huge slicer, but the flavor is good and production is superb. The fruit is on the smallish side, but don’t have a tons of seeds and would be good for canning.

Now, add to this three or four tomato plants I couldn’t resist at the store. You see what happened. I have five rows with eight tomatoes each. That’s a lot of plants so it’s a tomato palooza at my house right now, and I don’t even mind. I’m giving fruit away, and I’m freezing some for winter too. This post is part of our Dear Friend and Gardener Virtual Garden Club series. Join us if you’d like. Link back to the badge, and I’ll add you to the clubhouse. Meanwhile, Carol at May Dreams Gardens has a postcard from her garden. Just check out the vegetable haul she had.


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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