Saturday, October 18, 2014

The last autumn hurrah in my vegetable garden

This has been an utterly spectacular autumn.. My garden is still frost-free, but I think the party is coming to a quick end as the temperature is predicted to dip very low in just two more days.. ah well, I can't complain as we continue to harvest traditional summer crops like cucumbers, cucamelons, the odd cherry tomato, basil, and zucchini.

I've been a slack blogger lately - sorry! Tied up with book proposals (book #3!), magazine deadlines, and Savvy Gardening, the site I co-own with the wonderful Jessica Walliser, Tara Nolan and Amy Andrychowicz.

I'm especially excited for the launch of our new Savvy Gardening NEWSLETTER this coming Tuesday.. It's looking fabulous and anyone interested in receiving the free regular newsletter can sign up here.

I'm off to give a talk this afternoon in Middle Musquodoboit at 2 pm and then will wrap up my 2014 lecture season on November 1st in Bridgewater, NS. Details to follow.

I thought I'd take a quick second to snap a few photos of my garden before Jack Frost pays me a visit in the coming days.. Hope all is well in your gardens! What are you still harvesting?

So much celeriac - almost ready for winter mulching!

This was a red mustard planted last autumn.. we harvested during
last winter.. then spring.. then it bloomed.. and the
remaining stub came back again! It's now pushing out
lovely rosettes of leaves and blooms along its stem. 

I'm also still gathering seeds - calendula, cucumber, and
of course, nasturtiums!

I love the combo of Italian parsley and sweet alyssum. I
toss handfuls of the chopped parsley in steamed potatoes,
in grated carrot salads and in my morning eggs. Yum!
I've got to move a few clumps to the cold frames for winter.

The Pineapple alpine strawberries I grew from
Renees Garden seed are spectacular! They're still blooming and
producing the aromatic fruity flavoured elongated berries.

I get a nice handful every day from my 24 plants. Will be
interested to see how they overwinter.

Here's a seasonal friend - the wooly bear caterpillar. So

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Frost is coming! Take cover (literally)

Frosted dinosaur kale
We've been lucky so far.. late Sept and still no frost.. there have been a handful of frost warnings, but tonight, it looks like a frost is imminent. So what's a veggie gardener to do? As I say in the title of this post, take cover! There are a few simple ways to cover your crops and stretch your harvest season by months.

Mind you, if you truly want to harvest into late autumn and winter, you'll need to make sure you pick the right crops. What are the right crops? You'll want to focus on the cool and cold season veggies. In The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, two-thirds of the book is dedicated to the many outstanding crops that can be enjoyed during the cold season with details on how to grow them and how to protect them. For example, kale is a classic cold season veggie, but there are many others - endive, spinach, chard, arugula, claytonia, mizuna and so on. Plus, there are roots crops, stem crops (leeks, scallions) and wonderful, aromatic herbs that can also be protected and harvested all winter.

Now that frost is in the forecast, here are the three ways that I will protect the veggies currently planted in my open garden beds.
A lightweight row cover over Italian parsley

  • Row covers - These are a very basic level of protection, but can extend an autumn harvest by weeks or even months, depending on the crop. A row cover is simply a piece of lightweight fabric that comes in a range of sizes and weights. A lightweight row cover can be used to insulate against a light frost, while medium and heavy-weight row covers are used for more serious cold protection. Keep in mind that heavier fabrics allow less light to pass through to your crops so if you still want your crops to grow, remove the covers in the morning, replacing them at night or if a frost warning is issued.
A frosted cloche in the autumn garden
  • Cloches - Cloches have been used for centuries to protect crops. They are an easy way to shelter a few newly planted tomato seedlings from inclement spring weather, but aren't practical for large gardens as venting them in labour intensive. In autumn, I use my stack of plastic cloches to protect late season lettuces, small pepper plants and spicy globe basil from frost. You can also use a milk jug, bucket, or large juice or soda container to make a DIY cloche. If you're only using it at night for frost protection, it doesn't have to be clear. Make a large cloche for autumn tomatoes, peppers, and other mature plants by surrounding a tall tomato cage with a clear piece of plastic. Fasten well at the bottom, but remove during sunny days. 
Hello winter mini hoop tunnels! Note the centre
support to help shed snow.
  • Mini Hoop Tunnels - This handy and easy-to-make structure can be used to shelter winter crops - especially tall veggies like kale, Italian parsley, collards and leeks. Or, overwinter crops for a super early harvest by seeding cold hardy salad greens and scallions in late September - October, and covering with a mini hoop tunnel in autumn. Harvesting of overwintered crops happens as early as March. These tunnels also great for autumn frost protection. I make mine from 1/2 inch PVC conduit that is bent in a U-shape over my 4-foot wide beds. I use 1-foot long rebar stakes to secure the conduit. For winter support, run a length of wood down the centre of the structure to shed snow. If you just wish to autumn harvest, no need for the centre support. Cover with a sturdy clear plastic cover. I use 6 mil greenhouse poly. A mini hoop tunnel will lengthen the harvest season of cool and cold season crops by months

What do you use for frost protection?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Last Week of Summer Garden Update

Oh Peppermint Swiss Chard, you are so
Anyone else want an extra 4 weeks of summer? I gotta say that it was rather chilly this morning and tonight we've got a frost warning. Not cool Mother Nature!

I just got home from a few fun-filled days at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, where I gave 3 talks and did a book signing. It was my third time at this particular event and it's something that I look forward to attending each September. Everyone is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it's great to connect with both gardeners and fellow writers.

After being away from the garden for a few days, I was therefore anxious to check up on the veggies - and to make sure the deer didn't breach the electric fence while I was away. Thankfully, all was good and I snapped some photos to share as I harvested the slightly overripe zucchini and cucumbers.

What are you still harvesting?

One of the radicchio plants bolted in mid-summer and the sky
blue flowers are just lovely - this bee thinks so too! 

My first 'Pineapple' alpine strawberry - perfectly
ripe. So tasty! Can't wait for more of these. I got
the seed from Renee's Garden

Such a pretty little strawberry!

I like to plant cut flowers, like this dahlia,
in the veggie garden too!

A fun view of a pear-shaped cucamelon!
Can you see it? It's hiding behind the leaf - see
the shadow? 

And here it is after I lift up the leaf! A bit
of a funny shape for a cucamelon!

Some of the 'Buenos Aires Rojo' pole beans
are getting BIG. I've got to save some seeds
from these unusual and tasty beans.

I planted these Japanese turnips a few weeks ago - so
quick growing.. I probably should have thinned
them. Oops!

Hmm.. what are you doing on the turnips?
Where did those holes in the leaves come from?

Here's a BIG turnip! about 3 inches across. 

More cucamelons. I just can't get enough
of these crazy little cucumbers!

Lot's of 'Lemon' cucumbers still coming.. This
guy is only 1 1/2 inches across, but he
really took my eye with his pronounced spikes. 

Thinning more of the winter carrots.. these
thinnings were so big, I ate them! Yum!

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Late Summer Garden Tour & An Electric Fence Update

I can't believe it's late summer.. where has the time gone? I actually wore a sweater into the garden this morning to water! Brr..

Yesterdays promised rain turned into only about 1 mm of moisture and the soil is extremely dry. I just went up to water some of the new crops, but I was hoping for a good soaking yesterday so that I could sow more seeds - radishes, daikons, turnips, mache, kale, scallions, lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, Asian greens and more. I may have to go ahead with the seeding, and forget about waiting for any rain. 

However, in spite of the lack of water, the garden is doing very well. The beans continue to produce prolifically, the large fruited tomatoes are finally coming in (darn snails seem to take a bite of each one!), and the cukes are just delightful - especially those miniature Mexican Sour Gherkins. Definitely a HUGE hit with the kids this summer. In fact, today is my niece's 10th birthday and when I asked her what she'd like for her big day (candy? toys? money?) she said 'cucamelons', another name for those tiny gherkins.. and her 12 year old sister, who also has a birthday next week, wants some Buenos Aires Rojo beans! Gotta love kids who love their veggies.

As for my new electric fence, so far so good. This past week, I've seen at least 6 deer in my front and side yard, as well as more on the neighbours property, so I know they are around. But.. they haven't breached the garden. How do I know? Easy! Nothing is eaten.. they typically go right for the beans and carrot greens, but all is well - KNOCK ON WOOD! I can't say an electric deer fence is 100% effective, but I am extremely satisfied this year. 

Lettuce ready to bloom!

I love these quick growing Japanese turnips!

These were seeded just 40 days ago.

Some of the daikon radishes have bolted!

Um, can I help you?? Crawling over the leaf
mulch towards the tomatoes.

I swear I picked all the cucumbers yesterday.
I don't know where this came from?

One of our 'Indian Doll' pumpkins. Such
a beautiful variety.

This mornings 'stuff'.. tea, hose, plant tags and
a trowel.

The biggest mouse melon I've ever picked vs
the 'forgotten' cucumber.

Let's not forget the 'Lemon' cucumbers.

A fun combo - 'Sungold' tomatoes and

And just as I wrap up my harvesting, the sun
comes out.. hello mr. bee!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Let Me Introduce 'Buenos Aires Roja' Pole Bean!

Do you ever forget where you plant things? I know I do.. should probably use that garden journal.. but who has time?

Anyhoo, tonight I was picking a handful of Mexican sour gherkin cucumbers, I stopped to notice the size of the pole bean leaves that are winding their way up the same A-frame trellis. I do remember planting a few pole bean seeds amongst the cucumbers way back in late May, but I had totally forgotten what variety I sowed and the plant tag was long smothered - somewhere - under the rampant cucumber vines that are climbing, sprawling and creeping everywhere in and around that bed. So when I actually paused to look at the vining bean foliage, I was struck by how LARGE the leaves are - at least double that of my regular pole beans. Hmmm..

So I poked around under the foliage to see if I could see any actual beans to help me ID this sucker.. And yes, there were some pods - they were green, brushed in red! Glorious!! I immediately knew that this was 'Buenos Aires Roja', a variety sent to me from Spain. They look exactly like the seed packet - see below - and have a sublime bean-y flavour. Definitely something I will plant again. I picked these pods a bit young - they were about 5 inches in length, but according to my halting spanish translation of the packet, they will grow to 6 inches and then mature to 1 inch wide, flattened pots.

Yum!! I love trying new-to-me crops.. do you have any exciting new varieties in your garden this year?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hot and Spicy - the Piquant Black Radish!

I don't think it's a secret - radishes are easy to grow. And quick! I sowed the seed for these black Spanish radishes in early July and harvested the first two yesterday.. The rough black exterior is simply gorgeous and hides a creamy white interior that packs more than a gentle bite!

The bigger one in the photo was about 2 inches in diameter.. it wasn't until after I harvested that I read (on the seed packet) that I should have picked it when it was about the size of a quarter.. oops! Apparently, they have a tad less heat at that stage. Either way, this was a fun new radish for me and I'm going to sow the rest of the seed pack for an October harvest. I may even see if I can get these to 'hold' in the cold frames or garden into late autumn/winter.

Now, I've got to find a few more ways to use these spicy fellas! Suggestions?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Late Season Salad Greens - Time to Plant!

I hate to bring up the F-word (fall that is.. what were you thinking?), but it is time to start thinking about seeding more salad greens for the cold season.. lettuce, spinach, arugula, chard, beet greens, baby kale, turnip greens, Asian greens and so on.

Thanks to yesterdays thunderstorm, the soil has gotten a nice drenching and so I'm going to direct sow some seed for autumn today.. it's a bit early for the winter crops, but they'll also be going in by late August, early Sept, depending on the veggie.

If hot, dry summer weather is making seeding difficult in your neck of the woods, put your grow lights to work and start some greens indoors. That's what I did with these beauties below. Makes succession planting a snap and eliminates the need to water newly seeded garden beds every 5 minutes in the summer heat. :)

What are you growing for fall/winter?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Baby potatoes!

I planted three 4 by 10 foot beds of potatoes this year.. I've learned that one can never have enough homegrown baby potatoes.. in fact, I just succession planted a new potato bed about 2 weeks ago so that we'll have baby spuds into late September. Crazy good!

I start stealing a few baby potatoes from each plant when they start to bloom, leaving the rest to continue maturing. One of the beds had an infection of flea beetles in late June and I noticed last week that most of the plants had contacted blight, most likely due to the flea beetles, which can spread this common soil-borne disease. Hoping to prevent the spread to other potato (or tomato) beds, I pulled the 20 plants in that plot. There were Russian fingerling and red fingerlings in that garden, with potatoes ranging in size from 1 cm to 10 cm - a perfect baby potato harvest.. about 15 pounds in total, that was shared amongst the family so that everyone could enjoy these tender little tubers.

The bed has now been replanted with beets for fall and I will not plant any potato family plants in it for at least 3 years.. it's good to keep a notebook handy as I GUARANTEE you that I won't remember where I planted each crop and successive crop next spring when I'm arranging the beds. :)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Plant Profile: Peppermint Swiss Chard

Peppermint Swiss Chard is a new introduction for 2014 that boasts two-toned stems striped in electric pink and white. Yes, striped. Striped! In fact, it is the only two-toned variety of chard and I just can't stop taking photos of it. I've tried..  I swear.. but every time I wander up to the garden, there it is, looking so dazzling. And I just gotta..

At this point, I've got about 40 plants that I started from seed, scattered throughout my 2000 square feet garden.. I've plunked it at the entrance to the garden, amongst the tomatoes, near the potatoes, by my pole bean trellises.. wherever!

The plants are bolt resistant - even in the summer heat. I haven't actually lost any to bolting, and they have the typical flavour of Swiss chard. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if they taste like peppermint. Nope, sorry.. they just look like peppermint.

An added bonus: the plants are open-pollinated, so you can save the seed and grow it again next year.

STRIPED! Seriously striped. 

Such a beautiful bunch

My chard harvests with 5 pounds of baby potatoes.