Top 5 Succession-Planted Crops for Extending the Harvest

When direct-seeding in the spring, it’s easy for your “eyes to get bigger than your stomach”. It takes only a few minutes to seed a row of cilantro 50 feet long, or pour all your arugula seed into one furrow. There’s another age-old saying that applies here – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Regardless of what proverb you lean toward, there’s a piece of garden wisdom at the heart of it, and that is: sow more than once.

It takes a little more time and definitely requires some reminding, but seeding several plantings, or “successions”, of short season crops is important for several reasons. First off, it reduces waste. For example, if you plant a 30-foot row of salad mix, you’ll probably get more than you can eat at once, and have to give away (or give up on) whatever you can’t eat before it bolts or turns bitter—and then you’ll have no more salad mix for the rest of the summer.

Succession Planting

On the other hand, if you planted 5 feet at a time, but did it every few weeks, you’d have a manageable amount of lettuce available continuously. Succession planting spreads the harvest out over a long period, rather than having a large amount of one thing for a short time (which can be great if you’re into canning). Succession planting is also a powerful way to find out which crops perform best at different times of year—you might find that cilantro does beautifully in spring plantings, but immediately bolts in summer, or that the tastiest baby kale is grown in fall successions. One thing is for sure—succession planting will make you a better grower.

Top Crops to Succession Plant

So the next question is, what crops should you succession plant? The truth is that succession planting works for most crops—you can certainly start multiple successions of tomatoes or peppers—but the easiest way to get started is to choose short-season crops that are sown directly in the ground. Since these have a short harvest window, tending to mature and go to seed quickly, they’ll give you the most “bang for your buck”.

1)      Greens such as salad mixes, baby lettuces, Asian greens and mustards should be sown every 1-3 weeks for a continuous harvest. Most varieties will “cut and come again”, meaning that you can harvest several times, cutting about 1” above the soil line and allowing the plants to regrow for several weeks after each harvest. Lettuces, however, can only be cut once or twice before they become bitter.

2)      Roots such as carrots, beets and turnips should be sown every three weeks for a continuous harvest. Roots planted in spring for summer harvest will last 2-3 weeks in the field, while roots planted in summer for fall harvest can be left in the field much longer and harvested for storage after a light frost.

3)      Scallions are a great crop to succession plant—but be aware that they take up to two weeks to germinate, and must be kept weeded while they’re getting established. Once they get going, however, the crop can hold in the ground almost indefinitely, and will easily overwinter even in northern regions. Sow scallions every 2-4 weeks for a continuous harvest, being careful not to sow too thickly as they require plenty of room to reach full size.

4)      Radishes are among the most satisfying crops to grow, germinating within just a few days, and producing full sized roots in under a month. They don’t hold very long in the field though, so plant every 10 days for a continuous harvest. You can also combine radish and carrot or beet seed—the radishes will be harvested long before the carrots or beets, and will help clearly mark the row in the meantime.

5)      Cilantro, if you’re a fan, is one of the few herbs that must be succession planted every 2-4 weeks for a continuous harvest. For those of us that like it, it’s a wonderfully versatile addition to Mexican and Asian dishes and will find its way into many summer meals. It can also be easily frozen in ice cube trays with a little water, then later tossed into winter bean dishes for some summer flavor. If the cilantro goes to seed, you can collect the seeds, called coriander, for use in a variety of ethnic dishes. If you like cilantro, it’s a must for succession planting—and if you don’t, you might just discover coriander as a new flavor to experiment with.

When to Stop?

If you live in an area that freezes in the winter, you’re probably wondering when you should stop succession planting, since at a certain point it becomes too cold for some crops to reach maturity. Your last succession should be planted outdoors about two months before your first frost (about August 1st here in Vermont, since our first frost is around the end of September). This may seem like a long time—but the shorter days and cooling temperatures of fall mean that your plants won’t reach maturity as quickly as in spring or summer.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Winter Growing | 4 Comments

Grow Year-Round: What to Plant for Fall & Winter Harvest, by Region


Arbason F1 Greenhouse Tomatoes

There’s no denying it: people across the country are jazzed about growing their own. But food self-sufficiency doesn’t have to be limited to the summer months, and taking advantage of the possibilities in fall, winter and spring can save a lot of money (and the resources needed to transport food from distant locales).

The secret to growing your own food year round (even in areas with cold winters) mainly has to do with variety selection, timing and season extension techniques–and these vary by where you grow. So we’ll look at the fall and winter crops you can grow and the last date they should be planted by for each region. For each crop, it is a good idea to try planting several successions a few weeks apart–this way you will learn which fall planting dates produce the best results for each crop in your area.

 

Northern U.S.

Mark your calendars! Growing food in the north is limited by both the number of frost-free days and the amount of daylight we receive. The frost issue can be handled by using season-extending row covers, low tunnels, coldframes or hoophouses, which protect plants from hard frosts, allowing them to continue growing much longer than they would outdoors. But the light issue is pretty unavoidable—once the day-length drops below 10 hours, plant growth essentially grinds to a halt. This means that it’s really important to get your timing right so that fall crops are basically mature before this date.

 

Southern U.S.

Southern growers typically have more flexibility when it comes to planting dates, since the first frost is much later and light levels remain higher throughout the winter. This means that a wider variety of crops can be grown—depending on the specific area, it can be more like a whole “second season” than an extension of the main growing season.

 

Pacific Northwest

Growers in the northwest have a unique climate characterized by relatively moderate temperatures all year round. This means that the area is exceptionally well-suited to multiple successions of fall and winter crops that wouldn’t survive exposed to the elements, but do just great with the protection of hoophouses or low tunnels.

To learn more about fall and winter growing, check out our other resources:

 

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Greenhouses, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights, Winter Growing | 6 Comments

Enter to Win our Father’s Day GIVEAWAY!

In celebration of dads, fathers, pops or your old man, this month we’re giving a lucky one a sweet set of garden goodies, including:

  • our NEW Organic T-shirt
  • our NEW (and very spiffy) Eco-Trucker hat
  • our favorite garden tool, the Hori-Hori weeding knife from Gardeners.com and
  • a gift certificate for $25 worth of his favorite High Mowing seeds!

If you’re a dad, or you know your father is just itching to get his hands dirty, enter to win! (You can enter and have the prize package sent to the dad of your choice in time for Father’s Day.)

 

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy! Just click “Log In” below if you have a Facebook account, or if you don’t just click “Use Your Email” to create a Rafflecopter account. Then follow the instructions to enter for more chances to win!

Contest starts Thursday, June 11th and ends Wednesday, June 17th at 11pm EST. Good luck, have fun and Happy Father’s Day!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in About High Mowing Organic Seeds | 123 Comments

Tools of the Trade: Our Staff Favorites


Sarah weeding the squash trials with a stirrup hoe

As soon as we starting asking our staff what their favorite tools were, we realized that everyone, without exception, loved something different. So we divided them into 5 categories to help you learn more about the best tools for each use, and choose just the right ones for your needs.

Cultivating Large Areas

“My husband introduced me to the stirrup hoe; it works wonders on weeds by hacking off the tops. While it doesn’t get to the root of the problem (hah!) it does save on the hands-and-knees weed pulling, which means I’m more likely to do it and not let the weeds win.”

- Carrie


Katie Spring weeding with a collinear hoe




“I really like my narrow collinear hoe. Developed by Eliot Coleman, it’s great for weeding between tightly-spaced rows like onions or salad greens. You do have to be careful and go slowly, as it’s easy to nick plants in tight spaces, but I like how you can stand up straight to use it. A much easier way to weed if you don’t like bending!”

- Sophia

“My swan neck hoe sings around evenly spaced plants. Its geometry fits me really well, and I find it to be non-fatiguing when held properly. It moves through soil easily, taking out weeds when they are silver threads, but it also has enough heft to go after heavier, larger weeds and drag them out of the beds.”

- Paul


5-Tined Hand Cultivator

“My nomination would be a 5-pronged cultivator I found in a thrift store after we moved to Vermont. It came in handy when we decided to plant a garden at our new place last summer. The plot we chose to plant was 20′ by 20′, overgrown with several years of weeds, much of it switchgrass. We had no equipment, and no hope of any. The plot needed a tractor and plow.  I had shovels, rakes, hoes, a garden fork. I tried them all with poor result. Finally, I tried this 5-pronged claw. And with it, I cleared the plot. It swung swiftly, reached deeply, pulled easily. Nothing resisted it. Now it is truly my favorite garden tool.”

- John

Cultivating Small Areas


Cobra Head Weeder

“My favorite tool is called a Cobra Head weeder, and it is my go-to hand tool in the garden (and on the farm I worked on for 4 seasons). It’s great for digging up long roots like dandelions as well as pulling out runner-type roots like the dreaded witchgrass. It has a double blade on the end, so you can hack at stuff if you can’t pull it out, and you can also run it along its side to scuff up the dirt crust and do a quick hand weed. In short, it’s deadly. To weeds. Plus, the blue handle makes it easy to find if you set it down to really tug at a root.”

- Genevieve


“I’m pretty attached to my EZ digger from Fedco. It’s the perfect tool for making furrows and then smoothing the bed afterward.  Also the sharp tip is excellent for punching holes in plastic.”

Hori Hori Weeding Knife

- Jodi

“The tool I use more often than any other is the hori hori Japanese weeding knife. It’s great for transplanting, digging out taprooted weeds, and dividing perennials. Best of all, it’s small enough to carry with me, and the full tang blade is strong enough to leverage out stubborn weeds without bending.”

- Elena

 

Digging & Edging

“It feels a little mundane, but I love my garden fork. Since having kids, my time and attention for my garden has plummeted and perennial weeds have taken a firm hold in my veggie garden and many of my perennial beds. My salvation is the digging fork to loosen the soil enough to get every last bit of the roots. Otherwise, I’m sunk. In better weed years, I love the stirrup hoe because I can get the weeds when they’re small and don’t have to resort to the fork. I’m afraid to say I think the fork will be my friend for a while yet…”

- Andrea

“The flat edge of my spade is great for creating clean edges around garden beds. An angled, well-defined edge makes the bed look tidy and makes it much more difficult for weeds to creep in.”

- Sophia

Seeding & Transplanting


Hoss Garden Seeder

“I recently tried a Hoss seeder and it is awesome! It cleans out easily, is super durable, American made, and it doubles as a wheel hoe.”

- Stephen

“A dibbler is really easy to build, costs very little and brings so much to the farm. It cuts down on waste of plant production, since I know exactly how many plants it takes to fill a row, and it promotes plant health by giving each plant the room it needs to thrive.”

- Paul


Jamie pruning tomatoes in the Trials Field

Pruning

Felco pruners are a pleasure to hold and use. Such a clean cut, even if they are for a lefty and I’m a righty—using them is a pleasure and having to put a little thought into each cut (due to the lefty set up) makes me smile.”

- Tom F 

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips | 5 Comments

5 Simple Tricks for Preventing Pests & Disease


Plastic mulch can be used to suppress weeds, warm the soil, retain moisture, and more

1) Mulch. We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again: mulch everything you can. Whether you opt for black plastic, paper mulch, fabric, straw, leaves or newspaper, mulching well can prevent a lot of problems in the garden. To expound on its benefits, mulch

  • Decreases mobility for pests that transmit diseases like powdery mildew and bacterial wilt
  • Saves water by reducing evaporation from the soil, which in turn may help prevent problems related to water uptake, like blossom end rot
  • Smothers weeds that reduce air circulation, exacerbate fungal diseases, and can be hosts for pathogens
  • Straw mulch adds organic matter to the soil, lightening heavy soils and improving friability of sandy ones, ultimately improving soil health, biodiversity and resilience
  • Regulates soil temperature, black plastic warming the soil in the spring for heat-loving crops, while straw cools it, reducing heat stress that makes plants vulnerable to infection

If you are gardening in a wet area, mulching will make it take longer for the soil to dry out. Wait until the soil is sufficiently warm and dry for planting before applying mulch.


Space adequately for good yields and air circulation

2) Space. When laying out the garden or succession planting, try to visualize what it will look like when all the plants are full-grown, and space accordingly. Prioritize the plants that need the most space first, and only plant as many as can actually fit according to our planting chart. You won’t get higher yields by crowding your plants—you’ll just get stressed, shrunken ones that each produce less than they should. And by stressing your plants, you’re inviting enemies into the garden – practically waving a sign that says “Diseases Land Here!”

Part of good spacing is maintaining that space—if you take a “set it and forget it” approach to gardening, nature will take her course and quickly turn your plot into a jungle. Clean up weeds and diseased and dead leaves, prune tomato suckers by pinching them back as they appear, and be flexible—if it turns out there’s not enough room for a full-sized kale plant after the spring radishes come out, plant short-season lettuce instead. Keep the soil covered at all times by utilizing the space that’s available, and only plant what actually fits in the space when fully grown.


Interplanting helps use space efficiently, while retaining good air circulation and preventing diseases from spreading

3) Interplant. There’s a delicate balance between fully utilizing your space and crowding it. Basically, I advocate for a “vertical first” approach: plan your garden around the height of plants, filling in with the shortest (and fastest) ones at the end.

So for example, along the north side of a bed I’ll plant a row of trellised tomatoes, since they’ll get taller than everything else and I don’t want them to shade out other crops. I can simply walk along the back of the bed and weave the leaders through my trellis, pruning and harvesting tomatoes as they ripen. In front of the tomatoes I could plant a row of eggplants, peppers, or tall greens like kale. These don’t need much attention – just occasional harvesting – so it’s ok if they’re sandwiched in the middle of the bed. In the front of the bed I could plant carrots—they’ll need lots of weeding and attention throughout the season, so it’s good to ensure easy access. All around and throughout these “tall” crops, I can direct sow fast-growing crops like salad mix, radishes, dill and cilantro. If they get shaded by the taller plants, that’s ok—in summer it means a longer harvest, since they won’t bolt as quickly in the shade.

The whole bed is now filled, the soil completely covered (discouraging weeds), and because of the orientation with tallest plants on the north side, everybody gets the light they need. Air moves freely around the plants, since they’re not in tight rows of the same height, and the wide diversity of plant families in just this one bed means that diseases will have a harder time spreading.


Tomato trellis made with concrete reinforcing wire and cedar stakes

4) Trellis. Some people trellis cucumbers, squash, anything even slightly viney—but I have to draw the line at pumpkins and melons. Making little pantyhose hammocks for watermelons so they don’t slip off the vine? I’m just not going there. That being said, sturdy trellises are great for crops that really need them, like tomatoes and pole beans – you can check out my preferred trellising system here.

One of the biggest benefits of trellising is that it gets plant foliage off the ground, increasing air circulation and preventing fungal spores from taking hold. Trellises keep fruit off the ground too – which can be an advantage if you have poorly drained soil and find that melons or cukes tend to rot sitting on the ground. If you have a system that works for you, stick with it. But tomato cages and stakes never worked for me (and often collapsed, destroying magnificent plants). If you’re short on space and want to increase air circulation, growing vertically is the way to go—just invest in a system that is study enough to handle the weight.


Row covers protect plants from frost, wind, hail, sunburn and insect pests

5) Cover & Coat. Simple, affordable row covers can provide an impressive array benefits, and can be used over and over again if handled with care. Almost any crop that is susceptible to pest infestation (except potatoes) will benefit from being covered immediately after planting.

Row covers protect plants from frost, wind, hail and pests that carry diseases. Covering brassicas like broccoli and kale just after planting prevents infestations of flea beetles, cabbage worms, cabbage looper, and diamondback moth.


Cucurbit seedlings coated in kaolin clay are unappealing to cucumber beetles

 

Covering cucurbits like cucumbers and squash until they begin flowering keeps out cucumber beetles and squash bugs. It can be used to keep plantings of peppers and eggplants warmer, helping them grow and produce faster. For pest prevention, it’s essential that all the edges of the row cover are completely buried – even a small opening is enough to allow an army of flea beetles in.

Where you can’t cover, you can coat. Cucumber beetles and squash bugs can be deterred by dipping seedlings in kaolin-clay solution – but it must be reapplied after heavy rains to continue protecting the plants. Likewise, you can coat cucurbit plants with baking soda or milk solution to control powdery mildew, and use immune-boosting compost tea to prevent blight on tomatoes. You can learn more about these coatings in our Disease ID article.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips | 5 Comments

Direct Sow Like a Pro: How to Get Strong Germination Outdoors


Moxie planting peas in her garden

It’s easy to assume that growing food from seed in the garden is a piece of cake. There are no lights or heat mats, no germination domes or pots or potting soil to worry about. Just make a hole, stick a seed in the ground, and water, right? Well….sort of. While some plants are as straightforward as that, others may need a bit more coaxing to germinate in a nice uniform stand. So next we’ll talk about 5 ways you can improve the germination rate of direct-sown crops.

1) Follow the directions. As a kid I’d often try to make cookies or cakes, then complain to my mother when they weren’t coming out right. Inevitably her first question would be, “Did you follow the recipe?” and inevitably I would look away and admit that I’d made some adjustments – maybe I didn’t have brown sugar, so replaced it with white, or swapped baking soda for baking powder. “It’s chemistry!” she’d always admonish. And gardening is much the same.

Use good ingredients (seeds, soil, compost), follow the directions on the packet, and the plants will largely take care of themselves. This is especially true as regards planting depth. Large seeds need to be planted deeply to ensure good seed-to-soil contact, darkness, and adequate moisture. Small seeds often need to be planted shallowly because light is part of their trigger to germinate. For small seeds like onions, some growers cover them with just a light sprinkling of sand to ensure they are covered but still have access to light.

Timing is important too. If the packet says to direct sow seeds after all danger of frost has passed, wait until that date. Many gardeners have been tricked by unseasonably warm springs, only to feel intense dismay upon hearing of a frost advisory just after planting. Spring is fickle, and a week in the eighties is no guarantee that it will stay that way. Remember that the warmest, clearest, sunniest days are the ones most likely to be followed by frost. Even the hardiest varieties are vulnerable just after germinating, and should be protected with row cover in the event of frost.


Flat, smooth seed beds support strong germination at Pete’s Greens

2) Ensure constant moisture. Just like transplants started indoors, the soil must never dry out while seeds are germinating. This can be challenging outdoors, as an ordinary day might begin calm, but then be ferociously windy by noon, and calm again by dusk. It’s not uncommon to arrive home from work to find parched seedlings even when it wasn’t a particularly hot day. The wind is just as drying, if not more so, than the sun—so it’s best to check the weather every morning, and if it’s forecast to be warm or windy, water thoroughly before you head out for the day.

But there’s another side to this coin – keeping the soil wet won’t do much good unless you also make sure the seeds are making good contact with the moist soil. Before sowing, rake out the bed so that it forms a relatively smooth and stone-free surface. You don’t need to pulverize the clumps of soil (that will make crusting worse) but creating a flat surface will make it easier to form furrows that are the correct depth, while providing fine-textured soil that will make good contact with the seed.


Large-seeded crops, like peas, need more moisture to germinate

3) Water proportionally. What do I mean? I mean that in order to germinate, different seeds need different amounts of water. It’s always a good idea to make sure the top few inches of soil are thoroughly soaked after planting. But large seeds, like peas, beans, nasturtiums, and squash need a LOT of water to germinate—enough that their entire seed coat can absorb it like a sponge, double in size, and have enough left over to feed the growing roots and shoots. So make sure those large-seeded crops are watered thoroughly and deeply every day that it doesn’t rain during germination.

4) Keep it covered. Smaller, more delicate seeds like carrots and lettuce will germinate poorly if any crust forms on the soil surface. One thing I’ve learned by now is that crust in baking is good, but crust in gardening is bad news. Crusting usually happens when you water heavily initially (which compacts the soil surface), and then it gets hot or windy and this dense layer dries out, with your seeds suspended somewhere inside, unable to break through the hardened soil.


Seedlings under row covers are protected from frost, sunburn, drying winds, pests and more

To prevent this scenario, lay a piece of lightweight row cover over the bed right after planting. The row cover will help reduce evaporation from the soil surface, retaining moisture and preventing a crust from forming. As soon as the seeds have germinated, remove or raise the row cover to give them room to grow.

Alternatively, mulch. A bale of straw mulch goes a long way, and will dramatically reduce the time spent weeding on hands and knees. Before direct sowing, mulch to a depth of at least 4”, then make furrows in the mulch and soil below, plant your seeds, and water well. The mulch will serve many useful purposes—preventing a crust from forming over the germinating seeds, keeping roots cool and moist, discouraging weeds, and adding organic matter to your soil.

If you’re planting a cool-season crop like lettuce, kale, spinach, or peas in warm soil, as often happens when planting in midsummer for fall crops, you can use a little trick to cool down the soil before planting. Simply cover the bed with cardboard for a week prior to planting. The cardboard cools the soil by shading it and reducing evaporation. After planting, replace the cardboard over the bed to keep the soil cool during germination, lifting it daily to water and check for seedlings popping up. Be sure to remove the cardboard as soon as the seeds have germinated.


Thinning carrots is a time and labor-intensive task that can be eliminated with careful seeding.

5) Don’t sow too thickly. Many gardeners, even experienced ones, are guilty of sowing too much seed for the available space. It might seem like “crop insurance” – maybe the seed was a few years old, or the conditions seem challenging – so you think “What the heck, it can’t hurt.” Well I’m here to tell you otherwise–sowing too thickly can turn into a major headache.


Carrots must be properly spaced for good yields

Thinning is a time consuming task and must be done when seedlings are still very small – think wispy 1” tall carrots that must be distinguished from grass, horsetail, and any other weeds, then carefully culled so that they’re no closer than 1” apart. Proper spacing of carrots and beets is essential for good yields–each root needs room to develop, and foliage needs room to grow thick and lush to support root growth.

But by the time you’ve finished thinning a 20-foot bed with three rows in it, your back, knees, eyes and fingers will be complaining. So why don’t people avoid this whole situation and simply plant the seeds 1” apart from each other? That part is still a mystery to me. My guess is that it’s simply easier to sow seeds thickly. But given the additional work this makes later, I think precision seeding is a better way to go. The lesson is, mulch, take your time and seed like a minimalist—it’s more economical and a lot easier than the alternative.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips | 10 Comments

Enter to WIN our Kid’s Garden GIVEAWAY!

Enter to WIN! This month we’re giving away a selection of goodies to help your kid have a great garden season, including:

Looking for some garden projects to try with your child? A theme garden is a wonderful way to share the magic of nature with them and will keep them occupied while you’re working in the garden. Check out our recent blog article, Kinder Garden: Creating Functional Theme Gardens for Kids, for fun & functional theme garden ideas!

If you’ve got kids, grandkids, or know a little one that can’t wait to get their hands dirty, enter to win! (You can enter and have it sent to a child of your choice).

HOW TO ENTER
It’s easy! Just click “login” below to create a Rafflecopter account if you don’t have a Facebook account. Then follow the instructions to enter for more chances to win.

Contest starts Friday, May 15th and ends Friday, May 22nd at midnight EST. Good luck, have fun and happy gardening!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Kids and Gardening | 203 Comments

Feed the Bees with a Halloween Pumpkin Patch

If you’ve ever grown cucurbits (the family that includes squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and melons), you’ve probably noticed that bees are crazy about them. On a dewy summer morning, it’s not uncommon to find several bees dozing in each flower, or flying industriously from one to the next coated so completely in the yellow pollen that they look like flying yellow fuzzballs.


Male Peponapis pruinosa in a squash blossom. Photo courtesy of USDA-ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab.

The Squash Bees

Squash need bees, too—most varieties won’t set fruit without being hand- or bee-pollinated. Cucurbits are native to the Americas, and have a symbiotic relationship with two types of native bees from the genera Peponapis and Xenoglossa, aka the “squash bees”. The ground-nesting squash bees are found in almost all parts of the Americas, and are specialists—they only visit flowers from cucurbits.

They’ve also been shown to be excellent pollinators, rising earlier and pollinating cucurbits more efficiently than honeybees. They can be visually distinguished because they cover their bodies in dry pollen, unlike honeybees that use a bit of honey to pack it into “pollen baskets” on their hind legs. Squash bees often cozy up for the night inside a wilted squash blossom, chewing their way out the next morning to forage and mate.

This year you can give the squash bees a helping a hand and have fun with pumpkins too! Growing your own Halloween Jack O’Lanterns, pie pumpkins, and decorative gourds is easy and economical, and you’ll get lots of enjoyment from the porch decorations and pies that result. Next we’ll talk about how, where and when to start your pumpkin patch.


These semi-bush Cider Jacks need less room to grow than standard vining varieties, and offer powdery mildew resistance that makes them easier to ripen.

Where to Site your Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkins are generally big, rambling plants, so it’s a good idea to choose a spot with good drainage where they’ll get full sun (at least 8 hours a day) and have plenty of room to spread out without getting in the way. Make sure you can access the area with a watering can or hose, since the plants need regular watering while they’re getting established and in periods of dry weather.

Lay Out your Mulch

We recommend covering the entire area of the pumpkin patch with a thick layer of straw or cardboard mulch before planting. The mulch keeps the soil covered, suppresses weeds, holds in moisture, discourages pests, and ultimately breaks down, adding organic matter to the soil. The other advantage of this method is that you can site your patch on existing lawn or sod, whereas otherwise you’d need to till the whole area first. Tip: if you use cardboard, lay it out like overlapping shingles starting on the eastern side of the bed, so that the prevailing wind (usually from the west) doesn’t toss it around while your plants are getting established. You can also use bricks, rocks, or bags of soil to hold it down if you’re in a very windy spot.


Casper’s smooth white face is great for painting

Plant your Pumpkins

Cut or make openings in the mulch in a grid so that the openings are at least 3 feet apart from each other. Dig a hole at least 6” across in each opening, refilling it with the loosened soil you dug up but discarding any plants or roots. Add about a quart of finished compost to this soil, then plant your seeds or transplants in the hole, label the variety, and water in well.

If cucumber beetles are severe in your area, cover the plants with row cover until flowers form. Pinch back the end of the first vine when it reaches 5’ long to encourage more fruit-producing side shoots. You can do this to all the vines once enough fruit has formed and you want the plant to focus on ripening. About a month after planting, fertilize each plant with another quart of compost.

Timing is Everything


Some varieties, like heirloom Musque de Provence, take up to 125 days to mature – so plant early!

With Halloween pumpkins, it’s all about timing. If we want our pumpkins to be ready by October 20th (allowing a week for curing) and they take about 100 frost-free days (minus two weeks if transplanting) that means we should plant them out between the beginning of June and the middle of July. Here in Vermont we generally start our cucurbit crops as transplants about 3 weeks before setting out– I started mine this past weekend for planting around June 8th, since our first fall frost is around September 15th, and this way I still have 100 frost-free growing days. But if I had planted pumpkins this past weekend and I lived in the south, they would be ready to harvest when the weather was still warm, and almost two months before carving time. Jack O’Lanterns don’t store as well as winter squash, especially in warm weather, and they’d be getting soft by Halloween.


Unusual colors, like our bright yellow Owl’s Eye, make a statement on porches

So here’s a rule of thumb:

  • In far Northern climates, with first frosts in September, we recommend transplanting in early June
  • In warmer climates, with first frosts starting in October, we recommend transplanting in mid-June
  • In hot climates, where growth is rapid and the first frost is in November or December, seeds should be planted in early July, and transplants set out by mid July at the latest

Harvesting

As your pumpkins are ripening, turn them very gently once in a while to help create an even shape. Stray vines can be carefully lifted and re-routed in a different direction if they’re getting in the way. Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they are a solid color (usually orange), sound hollow when tapped, and the rind feels hard and resists puncture when you press your fingernail into it.


Kids love Jack Be Little miniature pumpkins, and they make great table decorations too.

To harvest, cut the pumpkin from the vine with pruners, leaving at least 4 inches of stem attached (all squash degrade rapidly if you remove their stems). Allow to cure in the sun for about a week, covering the fruit if frost threatens, then carve and display or store in a cool, dry place around 55 degrees F.

And don’t forget when carving that pumpkin seeds make a tasty treat! Just rinse them, toss with melted butter or oil and salt (and spices if you wish), then spread on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden.

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Successful Vegetables: Our Top 10 Crops for Beginner Gardeners

There’s a lot of information on the back of seed packets that can help you get started with your first garden season, but it won’t tell you which crops to grow as a beginner, and comparing all the options can still be bewildering. Don’t worry, you’re in good company—gardening is on the rise, and there are lots of folks out there just like you, asking themselves the same thing: What should I grow?

My first piece of advice is, grow what you like to eat. Not a fan of broccoli? Don’t grow it. Crazy about fresh salads? Start with lettuce. Never grown a leaf in your life? Try the crops on this list, omitting any that you don’t have space for or don’t like to eat.

My second tip is to keep it simple. It might seem ideal to have a huge variety of vegetables and something new to try every night, but each crop has its own preferences and needs, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed trying to keep track of it all. To avoid this scenario, keep it simple: Start with just 4, 5 or 6 crops you really dig, learn as much as you can about how to grow them well, write important dates on the calendar, and keep notes along the way. By next season you’ll have some real data to work with, and will have a much better sense of what to grow and how much garden you can handle. Ready to get started? Make a grid like the one below to plan what, when and where to sow, then check out our 10 best crops for beginners.

 

1) Peas & Pole Beans are very simple to grow, and can be great fun for kids. Simply install your trellis (like a teepee of bamboo canes or a piece of chicken wire), plant your seeds and keep watered till you see them pop out of the ground. Once they’re producing, harvest daily to lengthen the harvest. Peas should be planted as early as possible in the spring, while beans shouldn’t be planted until the soil has warmed to 60 degrees. Try Cascadia snap peas and Blue Coco, Rattlesnake or Kentucky Wonder beans.

 


Rainbow Chard

2) Chard & Kale are great, easy-to-grow sources of cooking and salad greens. You can direct sow them in the ground in the spring, or start transplants 4 weeks before planting out about 2 weeks before your last frost date. When the plants are about 1 foot tall, you can start harvesting the outer (older) leaves, and continue harvesting long into the fall! You can even grow these in spots that have partial shade (with only 4-6 hours of sun per day). All are equally easy to grow—try large Lacinato kale for soups and salads, Vates for a compact curly leaf and Red Russian for a tender steaming green.

 

3) Radishes are one of the most gratifying garden crops because they germinate and grow so rapidly. Simply direct sow any time of year, water well, and harvest in 30 days! Want to grow carrots? Mix some radish seed with your carrot seed when you sow – the radishes will mark where the slower-growing carrots were planted, and will help with thinning when you harvest them. Radishes also act like the “canary in the coal mine” of soil health—if you find your radishes are growing thin and spindly roots without forming radishes, your soil is nutrient-deficient. Pull them up, add a balanced compost or seaweed fertilizer, and sow again. Try classic red Cherry Belle or gourmet favorite D’Avignon.

 


Salad Greens

4) Baby Lettuce and Salad Mixes are another satisfying garden crop. Just direct sow seeds in a 2-3” wide band, water well, and harvest in 30-40 days. To harvest, take a sharp knife or scissors and cut the leaves about 1” above the soil line (you might even be able to harvest a second cut off the row if the weather is cool and you allow the plants to re-grow.)

 

5) Basil is an easy and delicious herb to grow. Simply direct sow in containers, or in the garden once the soil has warmed to 60 degrees. Allow the plants to grow to about 8” tall before harvesting individual leaves starting from the bottom up. Once the plants are about a foot tall, you can clip the tops of the plants for bigger harvests and to encourage a bushier growth habit. Try compact Genovese, larger Aroma 2 or Sweet Thai for a pretty and exotic treat.

 


Evergreen Hardy Bunching Onion

6) Scallions are wonderfully easy to grow – just direct sow (but not too thickly – they’ll grow thin and spindly), water well, and begin harvesting in around 60 days. Use a garden fork to loosen the soil and harvest whole clumps at a time. They store exceptionally well in the fridge, and can be left to grow in the garden for months, even years at a time, especially varieties like Evergreen Hardy.

 

7) Summer Squash often ends up the butt of garden jokes because it’s almost too easy to grow—many gardeners have accidentally ended up with squash the size of baseball bats and had to bring their over-abundant harvests to the neighbors (this is probably how zucchini bread was invented). Simply direct sow 2-3 seeds in a mound with plenty of compost, keep well watered, and check the plants daily for ripe fruit (the fruit can grow to enormous sizes in just one or two days, so harvest early and often!) Tip: To moderate the harvest, pick unopened zucchini flowers, stuff with ricotta & parmesan and deep fry whole for a gourmet treat known in Italy as fiori di zucca.

 


Ping Tung Long Eggplant

8) Eggplant is surprisingly easy to grow, either in the garden or in large containers. The key is plenty of sun and choosing varieties that are earlier with smaller-sized fruit—we recommend Snowy, Little Finger, and Ping Tung Long for beginners. They’re convenient to cook, as well, since the non-bitter flesh can be quickly sliced for Middle Eastern dishes and Italian favorites like eggplant parmesan. We recommend starting these inside at least 6 weeks before planting out (which can start anytime after your last frost date).

 

9) Peppers are also quite easy, requiring little in the way of fertility or care, and they have almost no pests that bother them. The array of choices is huge—but it’s generally easier to ripen Italian-type sweet peppers and hot peppers than the bigger Bell peppers. Some of the earliest, easiest varieties to grow are Purple Beauty, Sweet Chocolate, Oranos F1 and Stocky Red Roaster. Hot peppers, like Ring-O-Fire, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Early Jalapeno are also very productive and easy to grow. We recommend starting peppers inside at least 6 weeks before planting out (which can start anytime after your last frost date).

 


Merlot F1 Tomato

10) Tomatoes come with a caveat—they can be very easy, if you choose varieties and methods that are easy. The simplest varieties to grow are disease-resistant and determinate, which means they grow to a particular height, produce a bunch of fruit, and then stop. They don’t require pruning, and can make do with just a stake or tomato cage for support. In this category choose Merlot F1, Gold Nugget, Bellstar or Iron Lady F1. For a bigger, longer harvest, choose cherries like Esterina F1, Black Cherry or Bing, and salad-sized varieties like Glacier, Moskvich and Crimson Sprinter. For these semi-determinate and indeterminate varieties, try the World’s Best Tomato Trellis. We recommend starting tomatoes inside at least 6 weeks before planting out (which can start anytime after your last frost date).

Have a question, comment or idea? We’re here to help! Ask away by posting a comment below, or get in touch with us on Facebook.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Kids and Gardening, Variety Highlights | 1 Comment

How to Grow Your Own Organic, Non-GMO Chicken Feed!

Keeping a flock of laying hens is a fun way to provide a homegrown protein source, put kitchen scraps to good use, and produce far more beautiful and nutritious eggs than those found in supermarket chains. But raising chickens – especially on 100% organic feed – can get expensive. And in much of the country, the free range experience that gives chickens such a nutritious diet in the summertime almost completely goes away once the ground is covered with snow. The more limited diet can also affect how well chickens weather the cold, both physically and psychologically – their body temperature is higher when they receive a more well-rounded diet, and they’ll be happier with more interesting food. So we’ll talk about three easy ways to save money on feed and supplement the grain your layers need with a healthy diet of greens, grains, veggies and seeds all year round.

Sprouted Grains & Seeds


Wheatgrass

In fall, winter, and spring in particular, chickens can benefit hugely from some fresh greens—and this is when sprouts come to the rescue! Sprouting helps unlock protein and nutrients in dry grains and seeds, and makes them much more digestible for chickens. It’s also economical – just 1 tablespoon of some varieties can turn into a quart or more of sprouts. There’s no soil, and the chickens will eat the entire plant, root and seed, so there’s no waste. And lastly, it’s super easy—just soak, rinse, and feed the finished crop to your chickens in 3-6 days. Our favorite choices for sprouted chicken feed are:

Wheatgrass, sunflower seeds, corn, peas, soybeans and oats can be soaked in a bowl, then spread into a tray or container with drainage holes and rinsed daily until sprouts are 4” tall. Then simply dump out the tray and watch your chickens feast!

Alfalfa, red clover, and mung beans are grown similarly, but usually in a quart jar using a sprouting lid.

Leafy Greens


Amaranth

Chickens love leafy greens – especially tender ones like chard, frost-bitten kale, spinach, and the leaves of many specialty greens like amaranth, spreen and orach. Some of these plants do double-duty – you can harvest greens for the chickens during summer, then allow annuals like amaranth and orach to produce their hefty seedheads in the fall, and save the seeds for a winter feed supplement.

Storage Grains & Seeds

Many crops can be grown expressly for a winter feed supplement in the form of sprouted seeds or grain.

Mammoth sunflowers, amaranth, orach and corn are great choices if you don’t have a combine or other method of threshing the seed. Once the seedheads are dry, seeds from these crops can be easily harvested by hand.

If you have a thresher, or are willing to try threshing by hand, you could try growing wheat, buckwheat, oats or rye for winter sprouting grain.


Winter Squash

Storage Vegetables

Both pumpkins and winter squash provide an excellent source of delicious, nutritious food for chickens all through the winter. Plus, eating pumpkin or squash will help your chickens produce exceptionally deep orange yolks. You can grow these on the side of a compost pile or a corner of the yard covered with cardboard for an easy, low-budget way to grow a lot of chicken food. Just be sure to cure your crop properly before storing in a cool place with moderate humidity for the winter.

Posted in Ask The Expert, Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips, Health and Wellness, Variety Highlights | 4 Comments