Friday, June 15, 2018

It's Never Too Late to Start to a Vegetable Garden!



How did it get to be mid-June already? Father’s Day is just days away - many people, gardeners in particular may be feeling where did the summer go? Time flies by our busy lives as we juggle taking care of family, work and ourselves - making us feel like we never have enough time. The good news is, summer has not even officially started yet, so we can all take a collective deep breath.

Over the years of installing gardens, one of the most repeated reasons we heard why people hadn’t started the garden was that they felt they ran out of time. “Before I knew it was the end of June or July 4th.“ We would hear over and over again. “Why bother at that point, by the time I get anything going, summer will be over.” I find more and more how instant gratification is permeates so many aspects of our society‘s lives. We want things done yesterday, once we’ve decided to actually make the decision to do something.

Gardening can’t be rushed, you may be able to nudge Mother Nature along little, but that’s all you will really be able to get away with with her. Many people find the months of May and June rush by and the blow off any thoughts of starting a garden in July or August because to them what’s the point? They miss the growing season didn’t they? It would be too late to start a garden, would it?

No! It’s never too late to put in a garden bed and depending upon what zone you’re in, you may be able to start a garden 12 months throughout the year, while others may have to wait for snow so far. 

If you goal is vegetable gardening yes there are certain plants that can be seeded throughout the year. If you’re just starting your garden and it’s July or August , we suggest you begin with planting some herbs in the bed first. Herbs starts can be found your round at a local nursery or farmers market. Flowers too, such as marigolds are geraniums will give you a raise bed instant color which will spread out and last into the fall. But what about the vegetables? By this time they’re usually are no more starts to be found at the farmers market or nurseries so you will have to start from seed. 



There are plenty of delicious fresh vegetables which can be seeded in July and August delivering to you a delicious fresh harvest in September and October. By midsummer, the sun is strong and it will heat the soil in your new raise garden bed quickly. Raised bed gardens warm up faster than in ground garden beds and depending upon the material used can be a few degrees warmer too.


There are a multitude of quick growing vegetables that enjoy summer heat. We look for slow-bolting and heat tolerant seed varieties that work better in the hot summer. When starting a garden “late” in the season, we look for quick-growers that will give us a harvest before the growing season is through.  These vegetables don’t take too long to reach full maturity and most of the specific ones listed, we have used successfully in our clients’ gardens, as well as our own.[The links I include are for your convenience, I do not get any profits from any of the sales from the seeds, but I do recommend these companies]. Some vegetables are generally known to be quick growers such as radishes and lettuce. Many times we will use this quick growers when we do succession plantings in our garden. These quick growers generally  take less than a month to reach full maturity on average. Cherry bell radishes ( 22 days) or French breakfast radishes (25 to 30 days) or Viola radishes (24 days) - all can be enjoyed in a salad that’s all homegrown in a little over a month from the time a garden is started. 


A few years ago we added a second garden bed for a client - it was around mid-summer when the decision was finalized, so when we planted the new garden bed we planted a fall garden, meaning that everything would be harvested in late September- early October. We seeded summer squash, turnips, lettuce, beans, carrots. Summer squash loves hot summer soil and we picked a variety that matured in around 60 days, yielding multiple, bountiful fall harvests. Certain varieties can take even less time such Yellowfin and Sunburst squash which mature in 50 and 55 days, respectively. Or look for a super quick grower like Fortune squash which which matures in as little as 39 days! Tokyo Cross turnips mature in a quick 35 to 60 days and Golden Ball Turnips 45 to 65 days. 
Seeding the new raised bed 

Beans love the summer heat and there are plenty of varieties they can be enjoyed into the fall months like Speedy beans (50 days) or Wyatt beans (54 days). Other varieties include Calima, Mascotte and Golden Butter Wax.

Beets are also quick growers and there are plenty of variety that are heat tolerant. Early Wonder Tall Top beets mature in 45 days and are adaptable to all seasons. Touchstone Gold only take 53 days and Pablo beets 45 days. Bulls Blood and Golden beets also only take 50 days to mature.

Kale is another quick grower which should be sown in July to enjoy your fall crop. Nero di Toscana for instance matures in 50 days as does Redbor kale. 

It’s also not too late to enjoy carrots. There are a variety of carrots which one seeded in late July to early August can be enjoyed by the end of fall, early winter. Mini Adelaide carrot take 50 days, Mokum carrots take only 56 days, , CandySnax 65 days, Napa 63 days and Yaya carrots only 60 days.

There are even some cucumber varieties which can be started in late July which will allow you a harvest by summer’s end such as Chicago Pickling, 55 days to maturity but can be harvested smaller. Or Double Yield cucumbers 55 days or Excelsior and Straight 8 at 50 days.

It’s important to remember to think about the days needed to germinate as well which can range from 5 to 12 days on the average. This adds time to the overall time before your harvest comes in.

Fall garden favorites include a return to some of the cold crops of spring. The days maybe getting shorter and the nights cooler but that doesn’t mean an end to the growing season necessarily. There is plenty of arugula, lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard do you continue to enjoy in the fall if you didn’t have a chance to start your raised bed garden until late summer.

Fall, of coarse, is the only time to plant garlic bulbs which will overwinter and produce healthy harvests the following summer. We love cooking with garlic, onions and shallots so we always include these in our garden. These ingredients can add up if you use them a lot at the grocery store so growing them in our own garden is much more economical in the long run. Adding these bulbs couldn’t be any easier to plant too and it always makes us feel good to know that something is going on underneath all that snow in the winter time. There is also a wide variety of overwintering vegetables which can be seeded in the fall which will produce an early spring harvest; these include peas onions shallots and spinach. Spring onion seeds that are sown in August will be ready to harvest in early spring,  White Lisbon is a winter hardy variety that we have with had success with in the past. 

Autumn is also a good time to start an asparagus bed but choose autumn planting varieties like Pacific Purple. You can add another variety in the springtime to the raised bed.

Extend the season with a cold cover
cabbage and pak choi
Finally there are a few more veggies that can be started late in the season but require a little protection like a cold frame or cold cover. With a little protection you can enjoy winter salads, carrots , cabbages and pak choi through out the entire winter, particularly if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse!

Life gets busy and there is no perfect time sometimes to do things, we just do them when we can get to them. So if you find you’re interested in growing your own food and you think it’s too late - know that it’s not.  Remember even starting late in the season you will be able to enjoy healthy harvests and will be ready to go come the following spring.

Tower Garden

If you want to push things along a little and don’t want to spend time setting up a raised bed gardens but you’re interested in growing your own food you can start a Tower Garden. Tower Gardens grow food three times faster and produces 30% greater yields on average than traditional methods. 



Saturday, May 19, 2018

Chipmunks in the Garden


Over the last six years that we have been helping people with their gardens, one of the most repeated complaints is about small critters like chipmunks. Dealing with these crafty creatures can be difficult but not possible. Our new home in New Hampshire has rock walls in the front and back walls on the side raised beds against foundation. Pretty, but it's a chipmunk paradise playground. Chipmunks are everywhere around here. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned however chipmunks can cause tremendous damage to your foundation as well as the staircases and rock wall retaining walls that we have around the property, not to mention our garden. Last year Mark's hot pepper plants never stood a chance to fruit before the chippies ate the starts.

Chipmunks indigenous to North America with one exception of Siberian chipmunk. Otherwise there 24 types of chipmunks running around the woodlands, forests, deserts and suburbia as well as urban parks from Canada all the way down to Mexico. These cute little creatures seem to be everywhere, particularly in our gardens. Perhaps between learned more about chipmunks, we would understand them better and possibly be able to keep them from our garden.

Only weighing in around one ounce to 5 ounces tops, these little critters are a nimble bunch. They need to be since they could be eaten anytime by any larger carnivore that maybe around. Our property is filled with Chipmunks but it is also filled with all the its predators including owls, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, dogs, snakes and red squirrels. Chipmunks belong in this world family but that doesn’t keep red squirrels from making them a tasty lunch if the opportunity presents itself. All these predators are one reason chipmunks don’t travel very far, generally only roaming about a third of a mile preferring to stick closer to their main burrow. Chipmunks burrows are about 2 to 3 feet underground, but their tunnels can be as long as 20 to 30 feet. Their tunnels are quite intricate, they actually utilize two systems. Shallow burrows are used for refuge while they are foraging during that period they have deeper channels which they use for nesting in food storage although they have separate chambers for each of these areas. Their tunnels are quite neat, no dirties around the entrances since they carried away in the cheeks. 

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Disney's Chip & Dale
Chipmunks move soil and store food in their cheeks which can hold three times the size of their head making them look cartoon-like. This is probably why Walt Disney created Chip and Dale backing 1943. Walt Disney artists would go out into the woods and study woodland creatures they were tasked to draw for their movies. They would draw sketch after sketch until they understood how these critters moved and what their expressions were like. Anyone who is familiar with the antics of Chip and Dale who also has a vegetable garden would probably agree that Disney pretty much nailed it.

Picky Eaters? No, not at all! 

Chipmunks are omnivores and will eat pretty much everything. They love seeds, berries, bulbs, nuts, insects and mushrooms; not to mention bird eggs and baby birds. As chipmunks forage for their food to store they perform one of their most ecologically important tasks they are spread seeds and important mycorrhizal fungi, playing an important role in forest health and regeneration.

Interestingly, chipmunks need to sleep 15 hours a day meaning we see them only during the remaining 9 hours. There is much to be done during this time which is they always seem to be out when we are out. During the wintertime, chipmunks don’t hibernate completely, but they are so inactive that their heart rate and body temperatures drop. When they get hungry they rely on their food storage is accessible but is in a separate chamber than they’re sleeping area.

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Alvin & The Chipmunks
Contrary to Ross Badgdasarian’s famous family animated trio, Alvin, Theodore and Simon, chipmunks are solitary creatures– unless it’s breeding season of course. Chipmunks mate in the spring and late summer and have litters of that 2 to 6 pups. Male chipmunks, known has bucks, have one role and that it to mate. The female, known as the doe, carries and cares for the litter until the pups leave the nest.

If you’ve ever had the chance to simply watch a chipmunk in action undoubtedly then heard one as well. They use a bunch of different vocalizations including chips, chucks and chilling alarm calls. Some of these high-pitched sounds can easily be mistaken for a birdcall. The other day at we are out on the deck with the dogs and there was a chipmunk who was very talkative, confidently chattering away from the other side of the dog fencing we have surrounding out deck. I thought the dogs were going to lose their minds, but they just stared at the talkative little chippie who undoubtedly was giving them an earful. Chipmunks are very territorial and protect then areas around their main burrows. 

Now that we have a better understanding of chipmunks, is there any way to keep them out of our gardens? After all, isn't our garden a buffet of tasty treats to the chipmunk? Are there ways we can still enjoy tulips and another bulbs chipmunks continually eat the bulbs, seeds, starts and anything else that we might to plant?

Yes, there are things that we can do to try to deter chipmunks from coming into the garden and wreaking little less havoc. First of all, try to keep rock walls out of the garden since love to nest in rock walls unless of course you have to a retaining wall put in for landscaping purposes just know that chipmunks love to build their tunnels near structures like retainment walls and foundations.  These burrows can compromise these structures, as well as plantings that may be above them – destroying their root systems. They also love old logs, trees, stumps and areas that have plenty of ground cover – so take that into consideration if you have a chipmunk problem in your garden.  We removed some of the old stone walls that were in the old garden

Use hardware cloth over a freshly planted area covered with mulch can help mitigate damage to bold that you hope overwinter to bloom come springtime. Simply remove the hardware cloth in the early spring once the winter snow so thawed. There are also some plants you can introduce into your garden which chipmunks do not like at all– particularly due to their fragrance. Chipmunks are sensitive to smell and don’t like fragrant perennials like monarda (Bee Balm), hyssop (agastache) or lavender. Generally, chipmunks are sensitive to texture as well, staying clear of thorny and hairy leaves and plants.

Perennials Chipmunks Don't Like

Bee balm (Monarda)
Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan
Butterfly bush (Buddleia)
Catmint (Nepeta)
Chives
Delphinium
Daffodil (narcissus)
Hyssop (Agastache)
Irises
Joe pyeweed (Eutrochium)
Lavender

Lavender
Lupine
Milkweed
Ornamental garlic (allium)
Ornamental Primrose/ sundrops (Oenothera)
Phlox
Purple coneflower (echinacea)
Sedum
Sneezeweed (Helenium)
Yarrow






There are a number of annuals which holds no interest for the chipmunk– all of which would be happy in the garden making a wonderful companion plants bringing in beneficial as well.

Annuals Chipmunks Don’t Like


Ageratum

Zinnia

Alyssum
Calendula
Celosia/Cockscomb
Dianthus
Heliotrope
Lantana
Marigolds (tagetes)
Petunia
Annual Salvia/Sage
Snapdragons
Zinnia



Other helpful ways to keep the Chipmunks away from the garden is to be sure to deadhead your flowers that form seed heads like marigolds and zinnias. Chipmunks loveseat heads, so deadheading flowers is always a good idea. How many times have we all found half eaten or slightly eaten tomatoes in the garden? Any time is too many times. The reason for this is not that chipmunks are necessarily hungry, but rather that they are thirsty and seeking sources for water. A couple of strategically placed birdbaths should help keep the chippies and birds from taking a bite out of your prize tomatoes.

Be careful not to include flowers that will attract chipmunks. There are plenty of flowers that chipmunks consider tasty treats.  The best way to include some of these flowers in your garden plan is to surround them with plants and flowers they hate and hope for the best.

Flowers That Chipmunks Love
Chrysanthemums
Lemon Queen Sunflower

Columbine (aquilegia)
Coreopsis/Tickseed
Daisies
Lilies
Pansies
Seedlings of any type
Sunflowers
Tulips
Violas

Other natural ways to determine chipmunks in the garden include the use of cayenne pepper sprinkled around the plants. Remember they don’t like fragrant or spice and capsaicin is a powerful deterrent.  It’ easy enough to also make a homemade pepper spray which is safe to spray on your bulbs and plants’ leaves and stems to keep the chipmunks from going to town.

Homemade Pepper Spray

1 quart of boiling water
2 tbs. ground cayenne pepper 
2 tbs. oil
  • Drain the cooled down water  and ground cayenne pepper through a cheese cloth and add 2 tbs of oil – shake mixing well.
  • Put liquid into an unused or clean spray bottle and use on whatever it is you wish the chippies to stay away from. Reapply after rain or once a week.


There is no surefire way to keep chipmunks from coming into the garden, their size and acrobatic abilities make fencing impossible; however, sheer netting can be effective in extreme cases.  The best way to deal with chipmunks is to understand what they like and dislike and try to work to live in harmony with each other in our gardens. Good luck to us all.





Friday, May 11, 2018

Perennial Vegetables


Perennial Vegetables


Gardeners are usually passionate people. Looking after their plants morning after morning, observing the daily changes. I like to go out early in the morning with the dogs with my coffee in hand and walk the garden, inspecting plants like a general would his troops, searching for things right or wrong with each and every individual cadet. We invest so much time, generally enjoying the work in preparing, planting and caring for our little babies. There are some plants though that we can add to our gardens which don’t require as much work as our annual vegetables and they will give back to use year after year.

The last six years we’ve been installing and planting and caring for other people’s gardens and a number of years ago we were renovating an old garden space for a client who was interested in putting in a raised bed for asparagus and strawberries. We always like to plant exactly what our clients are growing, so we can to be cognizant of how well the plantings work. We loved asparagus, so we decided to add a new raised bed to our own garden and started to grow our own.  We had already been growing strawberries in whisky half-barrels but after reading that the two make for very good companion plants in the garden, we added some strawberries to the bed.
 
Asparagus in our CT garden

What you need to know about growing perennial vegetables


There are a bunch of perennial vegetables which can be grown in your garden. The most popular and well-known and of course include asparagus, rhubarb and globe artichokes as well as berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) The beautiful thing about using perennial vegetables in your garden, besides their physical appearance, is that you plant once, and you’re basically done. Perennials are overall low maintenance additions to the garden which will give your harvest, year after year. Plus, there seems like there is a perennial vegetable for every type of soil and light you might have. They also are found to be more nutritious compared to most annual vegetables, so it was a great way to introduce more nutritional food into your diet. The addition of perennial vegetables to your garden also increases your harvest season which will help to provide steadier source of food for your family throughout the year. For some people who’ve decided to take on providing for themselves either through homesteading, permaculture gardening, perennial vegetables provide a very important role for these gardeners. They not only enhance the landscape with their beauty and provide nutritious flavorful foods, they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy soil web.

Perennial vegetables are the ecological smart choice.


Overall, perennial vegetables require less water to care for than annuals, saving on this valuable natural resource. Plus, they don’t require tilling, saving on the release of soil organic carbon (SOC) into the atmosphere, important since it’s the foundation of soil fertility. The use of tilling has been shown to be very destructive to the soil web, in particular to mycorrihizae, a beneficial fungus that shares nutrients with plants. They also make for efficient weed suppressors since their leaves come out before annuals.

Properly designed and planned out, you can create moderate microclimates within your garden with the use of certain perennials which will help improve your soil’s organic matter, porosity and its water retention abilities. Their deep roots catch and store water and nutrients that would otherwise be washed away. The use of perennials not only provides much needed habitats for some animals and fungi, but they also attract other beneficial insects into the garden. They also tend to be more past and disease resistant than annuals, which is nice since you don’t crop rotate perennials. Lastly, but equally importantly is the role perennial vegetables play in the garden to help moderate climate change by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and sequestering it in its long-term oil hummus and perennial plant parts.

Our new asparagus crowns arrived yesterday along with the strawberry starts. The plan is to create a new raise bed for New Hampshire Garden. These two perennials make for good companions together in the garden: the strawberry spreading out to create a nice groundcover keeping weeds away from the tall shoots of the asparagus which developed beautiful showy ferns as the season progresses. The first asparagus bed we started in Connecticut is now four years old, it is now ready to be harvested annually. Too that we don’t live there full-time anymore to be able to enjoy the delicious asparagus. Luckily one of us will be heading down there and hopefully can bring home some fresh cut homegrown asparagus for us to enjoy. One thing we learned in all of our years of gardening is that you must have patience. There is no rushing mother nature, pushing her a little- maybe, rushing her – not a chance. The same thing goes when introducing perennial vegetables into your garden, patience is a must. Many required time to be properly established, asparagus is a prime example since it takes a full three years to establish before being able to enjoy a full harvest.
 
Rhubarb in our CT garden

Some perennials can be so maintenance free that they can never take your garden if you’re not paying attention. I was just recently reading about a gardener who had a Little Shop of Horrors-sized rhubarb plants that removed from their grandmother’s garden as a medium-sized transplant. The plant needs little care and gives them bountiful harvest year after year. However, the plant has sprouted off into other plants all over the place which the gardener referred to as her runaway babies that she hopes to be able to give to others who want to start growing rhubarb. So low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance. It’s best to pay attention, harvest repeatedly and keeping control of your perennials just in case your perennials do too well.





Popular Perennial Vegetables

Asparagus

Groundnut
Berries – strawberriesblueberries, raspberries, elderberries…
Lovage

Globe Artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke
Bunching or Egyptian Onions
Scarlet Runner Beans
Daylilies
Sea Kale
Horseradish
Sorrel
Good King Henry
Watercress

Garlic (grown as annual)
Radicchio (grown as annual)
Kale (grown as annual)