Still Time for Planting

Did you spend a lot of productive time in your garden over the Memorial Day weekend, or did you go out to the lake?  I hope you got a chance to do both, that’s what we did.

Memorial Day  is the target date for getting gardens planted here in southeastern Michigan.  I’m guessing that a vast majority of gardeners got their gardens planted over the holiday  weekend.

Don’t worry too much if you didn’t get a chance to plant yours, there is still time to get your plants into the garden and end up with a harvest in the fall.  I still have much more to plant since I am expanding our garden somewhat this year.

Sunflowers such as these can still be sown directly into the garden.

A list of vegetables that I might seed directly into the ground would include green beans (and other beans as well), beets, cabbage, carrots,  sweet corn, cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins, and watermelon.

Plants that can be set out as transplants from the greenhouse or garden center include tomatoes, peppers, brussels sprouts, eggplant, onions, and sweet potatoes.  Plants listed in the direct seed list are also available as started plants, the exceptions being carrots, beans and sweet corn.

There are also flower seeds that can still be sown directly into your garden including cosmos, blanket flower, four o’clock, gailardia, sunflower, zinnia and many others. There are many, many varieties of  flowers  available as started plants too.

Later on in the season we can sow seeds of certain plants for a fall crop of cool weather vegetables. We’ll discuss that as we approach that date.


Better Luck With Carrots

One frequent complaint I hear from gardeners  is the bad luck they have with getting carrots to grow.  Often they mention that it hardly seems worth it since only a few seeds sprout and they end up with just a couple of carrots in the row.

The problem can be traced back to improper planting; specifically sowing the seed too deeply.

Carrot seeds are fairly small and need to be placed near the surface of the soil in order to sprout.  You need to resist the urge to “dig a hole and cover the seed with dirt”.

All that is needed by carrot seeds is a very shallow row scratched into the surface of a smooth area of your garden.

Place the seed into the row and cover with a little bit of sand, I would say less than 1/4 “.  The sand covers the seed without “smothering” it.  This is especially helpful in gardens with heavy dense soil with a high clay content.

Carrot seeds covered with a shallow layer of sand.

Carrot seeds are most commonly sold as bare seeds but sometimes can be found as “pelleted” seeds. The pelleting process deposits a layer of clay onto the seeds to help them pass through a garden seeder easier.  It also makes it easier to see the seeds in your garden  when planting them.  Pelleting can give you a false sense of security since the seeds appear larger you think you can plant them deeper.

Raw carrot seeds on the left and pelleted carrot seeds on the right.

Keep the carrot area moist until the seedlings emerge from the soil which can take from 1 to 3 weeks.  After that be sure to remove any weeds before they get too big because the young carrots won’t compete well against large weeds.

Sow carrots seeds shallowly and you will have a much better chance of harvesting a bountiful carrot crop this year.


Squash Storage Experiment

I never used to like squash.  We never had it when we were growing up. I don’t know what it was, but something happened in the last couple of decades that made me appreciate squash and now we eat it regularly.

Squash is a very nutritious food and is easy to prepare.  Most of the time I just cut one in half, take out the seeds and bake it in the oven until it is soft and tender.

What  I’m talking about here is winter squash as opposed to summer squash such as zucchini.

This past fall I started an informal experiment to see how the different varieties of winter  squash hold up under our storage conditions.   The place I keep our squash ranges in temperature from 40F to about 50F depending on the outside weather conditions.

I don’t do anything special to them.  I just put them into a crate and take one out when I want one.

I have in storage eight different varieties of squash, four crates in all.

Back row L-R: Spaghetti, Blue Hokkaido. Middle row: Baby Hubbard, Butternut, Hybrid Acorn, Acorn. Front row: Kabocha, Buttercup

After going out the other day to get a squash to bake,  I thought “h-m-m-m-m  some people might be interested in the results up to this point”.

Now we are into the third week of February and I see that the Kabocha squash has deteriorated the most.  It has areas of deep spoilage.  These spots can be cut out and some of the squash can be used.

The Buttercup appeared to go down hill fairly quickly. Last month I noticed that most were starting to get a little rotten right in the “cup” of the but the rest of the squash was perfectly fine.

The Butternuts are getting shriveled and some have very soft spots.

The Acorns are firm but have some isolated bad spots that can be cut out, the rest of it is usable.

There are  some surface spots on the Spaghetti Squash but they are otherwise OK.

No spoilage is evident on the Hybrid Acorn.  I haven’t tried to eat one of these yet.

Neither the Baby Hubbard nor the Blue Hokkaido show much in the way of loss of quality.

One thing has to be done if you want to keep these for the winter;  pick unblemished squash.  Be sure they are not bruised, cut or have any other suspicious marks on them.  If they do have spots on them, eat those first before spoilage sets in.

For flavor, my favorite is Buttercup.  They are so flavorful that you think they already have butter and sweet spices mixed in.

So, there you go, lots of great food stored through winter with no canning or freezing.  Now if anyone has any recipes….


Better Late Than Never

Here we are, it’s the last day of November and I just got our garlic in the ground a few days ago.

Regular readers  of this blog already know that fall is the time of year that you plant garlic.  Garlic can be planted in the spring, however you will end up with bulbs half the size of those planted in the fall.

I think there is still some time to get your garlic planted, I wouldn’t wait too much longer though.

If you have a helper in the garden, decide who is going to go out and find some garlic cloves to plant while the other stays behind and prepares the area to be planted.  If you are by yourself,well then, you’ll have to do both.

Check the garden centers for garlic cloves, if they are out, a farmer’s market stand may have some that can be used for planting. The garlic purchased in a grocery store produce department will most likely have been treated with a sprout inhibitor and will not be good for planting. Sprouting is what we want. I used my garlic that I saved from this years crop.

Your garlic spot must be free of all weeds and kept that way during the growing season because garlic does not compete well against weeds. If you are planning on amending your soil with compost or peat, now’s the time to do so.

Break apart the garlic bulbs into individual cloves just as you do in the kitchen, only this time you won’t be running them through the garlic press.

Plant the cloves into the soil about 2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Place the root end down. You can just push them down into the soil with your finger or dig a furrow like I did here.

Planting garlic into a 2'' deep furrow
Planting garlic into a 2'' deep furrow

Cover them up with soil and let them  go until the soil freezes.  During this period, the cloves will grow roots.  Hopefully we will have a mild December which will allow our late planted garlic some time to develop those roots. No fertilizer is needed for now, we’ll apply that in the spring.

Garlic cloves ready to be covered
Garlic cloves ready to be covered

Once the ground freezes, cover the bed with straw, compost or other type of mulch.  It’s much better for the garlic if the soil is kept at a consistently cold temperature (which the mulch will provide) than to be freezing and thawing over and over through the winter.

In the spring we will remove our mulch and add fertilizer, garlic is a crop that needs a lot of plant food.

We’ll revisit this project again at mulching time and fertilizing time.


Knobby Roots in the Garden

Now that we are at the end of the summer gardening season, at lot of us will begin pulling out  old and worn out plants and tossing them in the compost pile.

I found this root attached to a sweet potato plant:

Notice the knobby, bumpy nodules.  This is not normal for a sweet potato root. The abnormal growth is caused by a nearly microscopic worm-like creature called a nematode.

Nematodes are the bane  of sweet potato farmers in the southern states where sweet potatoes or other vegetables are grown year after year in the same spot.  In addition to gnarled roots, nematodes also cause reduced yields.  Often the damage shows up as black spots under the skin of the tuber that are not seen until the root is peeled leaving an unusable potato.

This nematode damage can occur on almost any common vegetable plant.  If you find a root that resembles the one in the photo, destroy it and don’t attempt to compost it, otherwise you risk spreading the pests to other parts of your garden.

There is no method of control for nematodes in the garden except rotating your crops.  You must rotate to a grass-related crop such as sweet corn in order to break the life cycle of the nematodes. “Regular” garden crops will support nematodes in the soil.

Knobby roots on legume plants such as peas and beans are  normal and not caused by nematodes, so don’t dispose of  them.  Beans and peas have nodules on their roots that harbor beneficial bacteria. In this case the bacteria  are beneficial to the plant and actually produce fertilizer in the form of nitrogen that the beans use to grow.

Chances are you won’t see these symptoms in a new garden because the nematodes have not had enough time to multiply.

Happy Composting,


Balance of Nature in Your Garden

I came across this horn worm on our grapes this morning. There were over 2 dozen white objects attached to its body.

It had been parasitized by another insect, most likely some species of wasp.

These types of wasps reproduce by depositing their eggs with their stinger into a host insect.  In this case the unsuspecting insect is a horn worm.

The eggs soon hatch inside the caterpillar’s body. The newly released wasp larvae then begin to feed on the “innards” of the host insect while it’s still alive.

When the young wasp larvae have grown to sufficient size, they form”cocoons”, those white structures you see on the back of the caterpillar. The wasp larvae undergo a transformation inside the cocoons and emerge as fully developed wasps.

You can see by the size of the cocoons that these wasps are tiny compared to the paper wasps or hornets we normally see buzzing around the picnic table.

Let the balance of nature help you in your garden. When you see a caterpillar that looks like this, don’t squash or spray it, let the new wasps be “born”.  They will soon be flying around looking for more caterpillars in your garden to parasitize.

By the way, this type of wasp does not sting or disturb people.


You can have your landscape and eat it too!

Anyone can grow fruits or vegetables in their own backyard.  No special garden plot needed!

Edible plants  can be tucked in a number of spots in an existing landscape.  The only requirement is enough sun which in most cases is 6-8 hours of direct sun.

Any vegetable can be grown but some look better than others, so they can be put in more noticeable spots.  Some plants that are being used for landscaping are swiss chard, parsley, everbearing strawberries, lettuce, kale, cabbages, peppers and many kinds of herbs.

Best results can be obtained if the soil is improved directly around the edible plant. Also, during dry spells, they will probably need supplemental water.

Blueberries and dwarf fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches and plums are a good choice even though they need a few early season sprays.

Grapes on a fence or arbor can add quick privacy.  There is even a hardy Kiwi vine for our hardiness zone.

Just think of walking out into your own yard in the summer and picking peaches off your own tree.  Nothing tastes better!

bye for now,


-19F and Still Growing

I went out to the garden the other day to check out the beds that were planted last fall.

We had planted three beds, one bed of a leaf lettuce mix, one of spinach, and one bed of Bibb lettuce.

The Bibb  lettuce had a heat coil buried to keep the soil warm.  I fully expected that bed to be alive, and it was.

What surprised me was discovering that the other two beds were alive as well. They had nothing more than a plastic covering to protect them from the winter cold.  It got down to at least -19F at this garden location.

It was the snow cover that we had this winter that made the difference!  Under a foot of snow that was piled on top of the bed covers, the lettuce and spinach were still alive and waiting for a little warmer weather to start growing again.

You may want to think about making your own bed cover to get an early crop of lettuce this spring.  A bed cover placed over a garden bed can start to warm the soil. You can start some lettuce plants inside then gradually  let them get used to the cooler outside  temperatures. Put them in a bright yet cool location  (40’s to 50’s) for several days, then move them  into your outdoor covered bed to get a real early crop of lettuce.

Keep in mind that your lettuce that you grow in that bed will be better than anything you will find in the store. Check the prices at “Whole Foods” or some other high quality produce department to get an idea of what you might have to pay for lettuce that only begins to approach the quality you will be harvesting!

Once your bed cover is made, you can use it next fall to extend the growing season.


“…well fed and in the bed…

…the garlic bulbs that is. Today we mulched our garlic beds. The raised beds we have for vegetable production measure about 5’x9′. Five pounds of garlic bulbs plant six of these beds exactly. We used wheat straw about 6′”-8″ deep to cover these six beds. Four moderately heavy bales did the trick. By the way, these bales of straw were of the most beautiful golden wheat color I have seen in a long time. In a way it was amost a shame to use them for mulch, but that’s what they’re there for. The bright color ensures that we don’t import a new batch of weed seeds from weed stalks that could have been baled up out in the field by the farmer along with the straw. Straw that has lots of different color stems in the bale more than likely are contaminated with weeds.
If you promise not to tell anyone, I”ll let you know the secret to growing super size and delicious garlic. So just let me know if you can “keep it under your hat”, by writing me a short note in the comment section that you like garlic.

Well, now that the garlic bulbs are all tucked in their beds for the winter, I think I’m going to have lunch and take a nap. Bob