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.


Late summer vegetable garden and Monarch butterflies

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The potager after yesterday's rain is definitely in transition.

The potager after yesterday’s rain is definitely in transition.

The vegetable garden is in transition. It’s late summer, and all the tomatoes were taking over, so I removed most of them keeping only those plants that were still producing heavily and seemed healthy. Most of my tomato plants have leaf diseases now, but still provide more tomatoes than I can eat. My gardener friends in Oklahoma are surprised I had so much tomato success this year. All that rain and manure were good for those planted in the potager. I’ll have to move them next year though because of root knot nematodes. I can’t plant tomatoes, eggplants and peppers in the same spot two years in a row. Next summer, they’ll be back in the big garden again.

Some of the tomato harvest.

Some of the tomato harvest. Yes, that’s a fly swatter above. We had tons of flies this year. Wonder why.

Most of our summer temperatures were in the 90s except for a hot spell in August that lasted about two weeks with temperatures over 100F. I just tried to keep everything wet and mulched in order to keep it cool. During those days, the tomatoes stopped setting blooms, but revved back up as soon as the mercury went below 100F again.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

Zinnias were about the only happy plants in the large vegetable garden.

As for the large vegetable garden, it was pretty dismal. I live on a hill, and the rain just kept coming for weeks and weeks. That’s the thing about a prairie climate. The weather always comes in extremes. All of my seeds slid downhill, and the germination rate for many varieties was very low. I replanted my okra twice, and I finally got enough the other day to fry some. I planted bush beans three times. I still await a harvest.

The one good piece of news in the veggie garden–other than the zinnias and sunflowers–was the ‘Glass Gem’ corn.

In frustration, I turned half of the large veggie garden into a cutting garden of cosmos, zinnias, amaranth, celosia, hollyhocks and nicotiana. It performed much better than the vegetables and became a way station for butterflies and other pollinators. I took my best butterfly shots with most of them posed on the zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie Hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Zowie hybrid zinnias, one of my favorite types of zinnias.

I think butterflies love zinnias because the blooms are flat and make a great staging area. Next to the zinnias, I planted two yellow milkweed plants, Asclepias tuberosa, for any Monarchs that might stop by. I have aphids of course. Irritating creatures. I keep washing them off after checking for Monarch eggs beforehand. I don’t want to wash off any precious Monarch eggs. Buying milkweed plants is complicated because so many nurseries and box stores use Bt. or Neonicotinoids on plants. If applied recently, these pesticides will kill your caterpillars. Ask your nursery what’s been used before you buy. This fall I bought seeds for three milkweeds native to Oklahoma, A. incarnata, rose milkweed, A. sullivantii, prairie milkweed and  A. hirtella, tall green milkweed. After soaking the seeds for a few hours, I sowed them in three different spots in the garden. Yes, it’s a lot of seed, but I’ll thin out the plants, and I wanted a better chance at germination.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

Soaking milkweed seeds.

It’s my hope that the seed will break down over winter with small seedlings emerging next spring. If this works, I will know for sure that my milkweed is safe for Monarch caterpillars. When people are discouraged about disappearing Monarchs, I think of all my friends who are working diligently to bring their numbers up again. If you’d like to learn more from these dedicated gardeners, join The Beautiful Monarch discussion group on Facebook. Two other great groups are Oklahoma Friends of the Monarchs and the Monarch Initiative of Tulsa. My friend, Kylee Baumle, at Our Little Acre works very hard, and she’s inspired me this summer with her beautiful photographs and Monarch tagging and raising. When I get discouraged, I remember, it was backyard birders who helped bring back the Eastern Bluebird from extinction. I think we can do the same for Monarch butterflies. I haven’t seen more than three Monarchs in my garden this year, but I’m planting milkweed so that they will come. Kylee was kind enough to share her photos of a Monarch caterpillar and chrysalis so I could show you since I’ve got nada.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Monarch caterpillars are things of beauty. I took them for granted until they were nearly gone.

Aren’t they beautiful? That gold on the chrysalis always gets me. To learn more about Monarch butterflies including where they got their royal name, head over to Monarch Watch’s FAQ.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Monarch chrysalis hanging from a leaf.

Last week, I planted some cold weather vegetables for my fall garden. I have beets, broccoli rabe, chard, kale, turnips, rutabaga, two kinds of lettuce and spinach. I piled leaf mold on top of the garden soil to keep veggie seeds cooler so that they would germinate. A cool front finally moved through the state yesterday. I also watered everyday until I began to see seedlings popping up through the mulched leaves. You can also soak seeds overnight, but I didn’t take that extra step. I sowed parsnip and carrot seeds in my cold frame including ‘Cosmic Purple’ carrots. Have you priced rainbow carrots in the store? Outrageous. I’ll just grow my own.



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.

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.

"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.