GardenDishes

dishin' the DIRT on hit and myth landscaping

Archive for the category “vegetable gardening”

Weeds or Woes? Choosing an Organic Method COULD Save Your Life!

Recently I heard you speak and you mentioned using RoundUp could hurt more than the weeds in my yard.

Can you explain?

New research shows WEEDS are not the only thing killed by Roundup....

New research shows WEEDS are not the only thing killed by Roundup….

Happy to expound on this one. A few weeks ago a neighborhood association asked me to look over their contract with a local lawn maintenance company. Immediately I redlined a problem: it specifically asked that RoundUp ®, a widely advertised glyphosate used in home and commercial gardening, be sprayed for weed control. I freaked, mainly because this is my HOA spraying next to my garden! I’d discovered genocide was going on in the neighborhood shortly after I moved in last fall when I drove up to a masked man, spray wand in hand in my front yard. I jerked open the car door, jumping up and down, screaming at the poor guy to get him to stop. I told him I’m an organic gardener and NEVER wanted to see his sorry spraying self in my garden again. He shrugged and moved the 4 feet over to my neighbor’s and began misting his poison again. 

So what’s the big deal? If you aren’t growing edibles – which I do throughout my entire landscape – you might not see any harm in using glyphosate as a short cut to weed eradication. Let’s face it: easy helps. Weeding is the toilet cleaning of gardening, in my opinion. And like toilets, it very seldom gets noticed… unless it does NOT get done. More and more research on what glyphosate does to our environmental systems AND our body systems should give us the heebie jeebies, even more than a nasty toilet. Just as it does with plants, glyphosate messes with our hormonal balance and cellular production. And since it’s designed to kill ALL plants, new findings show it does so IN us as well as around us, decimating the good bacteria needed for our intestinal health. And in September, the National Institutes of Health linked glyphosate to breast cancer. Here’s the article on their website. photo 1The stuff is especially dangerous to small children and pets. That means your little one playing in the lush lawn, or your pooch taking a poop where glyphosate has been applied exposes them to incredible danger, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, who offers some of the symptoms you can expect to see.

So what’s a healthy alternative? I’ll offer a few of my favorites – including cinnamon and white vinegar – in an upcoming article.

Many of the health issues we experience link unbreakably to our determination to travel easy street. The use of glyphosate is just one of the many toxic trails we find ourselves following when searching for a magic pill to perfection. I’m praying that as the public becomes more informed, getting rid of weeds the easy way won’t be as enticing to home gardeners and consumers as will good health for our loved ones and the planet we love. If we’ll insist commercial growers and maintenance companies ditch the poison completely, we might see a turn around in our generation. One neighborhood at a time.

Planting seeds straight into the ground

Lately, I’ve gotten several questions about the best way to start seeds in the ground, also called straight sown seeds. (Of course, I don’t DO straight lines, so that is a bit of an oxymoron at my house…..)  I don’t know that my way is the BEST, but it works well for me.  I’m open to suggestions – and welcome royalties from a patent partnership –  if you’ve found one that’s better.

Bottomless, this pot-o-basil is not what it appears.

HIT: starting your own plants from seed is inexpensive and EASY if you protect the seedlings!

First off, be sure you’re planting the seeds at the proper depth. If they’re from a packet, it should tell you how deep to put them in; as a general rule, seeds and bulbs require planting between double – and – triple their height. (Here’s my friend WILLIAM MOSS with Patti Moreno showing you how it’s done with veggies.) If you’ve planted them properly, you’ll start seeing green several days or weeks – or even months – before they are established well-enough to become actual rooted plants. During that time, the underworks are branching out to support the upperworks, making it vital you baby those fragile seedlings. I find the main protection my new seedlings need are actually from ME, though. Forgetting I’ve put seeds down, I mulch over that bare spot. Or I can’t remember what I put there because the tag is missing.  Sometimes a heavy downpour is the culprit and my seeds end up down the street.

We even have a neighborhood pooch whose owner allows him too much roaming space and he did in some cassia seeds with a well placed dump.  Yes, it is organic, but come on!

I used to stack rocks, cairn-like, stick a flag in it with the plant name, and cross my fingers as I walked away.  Either the flag, the rocks, or both ended up missing.

All you need to be a seed superstar is a plastic planting pot, scissors and a marker!

Now I hold on to all those small pots when I buy plants at the nursery and recycle them into seed starting studs.  I use a few the traditional way, but what works even better is making them into a TEXAS-STYLE SEEDLING CORRAL. I cut the bottom out, turn ’em upside down, and write down the plant’s name and the date I planted it with a silver marker.  Then I bury it partially into the ground, up and over the “lip” that used to be the top of the pot. Then I add a bit of potting soil and push the seeds into place.  I’m always looking for activities to lure in kids to gardening and think this might be a great one for little ones to try.  (As a bonus, this method allows me to know exactly where I need to mist when it dries out, and it holds in the water for longer.  And this isn’t proven, but it seems the black color of the pot absorbs the day’s heat and gets my seedlings going faster in early spring.)

Cut the bottom 1/4 off the small plastic plant pot and turn it on its head for a plant perimeter/marker.

Ignore the label on this one….it’s actually G. aestivalis winklerii ‘Grape Sensation,’ not ‘Purple Passion.’ But I wouldn’t know WHAT or WHERE it was without its seedling corral, would I?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might want to cut the perimeter away once the seedlings are up….

or just leave it in place so you remember those bulbs are there even when they aren’t in bloom.

WARNING: if a varmint wants those seeds, even an armed guard can’t stop ’em!  Need proof?

Here’s who came to dinner at my house last week.  Yes, those are carefully dried/saved/planted hibiscus seeds this little guy decided to grab in the run-through at Casa Colburn-a!

P. Allen’s Little Rock

Did you know Little Rock is named after a LITTLE ROCK? The BIG ROCK is just upriver, the Quapaw Indians using this landmark as a trading post prior to Europeans horning in on the action.

While in Little Rock last weekend speaking at the Arkansas Literary Festival, I had the chance to experience a beautiful city I’d only passed through, not been to, previously.  I also got to see a renowned gardener’s garden while in town: P. Allen Smith.  Now he doesn’t actually LIVE in this house much, apparently.  I leave my house for a week and all H*## breaks loose, yet P.Allen’s yard was in pretty good shape. (Do I have to use the “P” every time?) I was not invited to see the garden by the man himself despite my tweet I’d be in town, so my friend Ann and I strolled by his house to make sure he was okay since he didn’t answer back with his own tweet about how much he’d love to have me over for mint juleps on the verandah.

view into P.Allen Smith's back garden

Ann’s home is two doors down from P. Allen (wonder what his mom calls him?) and reports to me periodically what’s going on in the historic Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock where they live.  A garden tour is coming up in May, so many landscapes in the Quarter are getting spiffed up for the event, including Ann’s.

Still don’t know what the “P.” stands for, but wonder if it refers to the beautiful P-L-A-N-Ts?  c:

pooch portal at Ann's house

Pooch pool at Ann's house has steps so the previous resident of the backyard - a yellow lab with arthritis - could easily climb out after a dip.

rose arbor @P.Allen Smith's home in Little Rock

Roses are EVERYWHERE in Little Rock! This wall of climbers is behind the Central Library in downtown.

YOU CAN GROW THAT: squash isn’t just a child’s game!

When you follow the rules in gardening, it works.  When you don’t, it doesn’t.

A harvest in summer requires following the recipe in spring.

But the rules we must follow are not OURS.  They are nature’s rules.  That’s why gardening seems difficult.  We Americans tend to be proud of our rule-breaking ways! Actually, rules make things much easier and as Andy Rooney loved to ask, “EVER WONDER WHY…. ?”.  Well, in gardening, you don’t have to wonder.  The law of sowing and reaping cannot be bargained with or altered.  It offers a comforting predictability. Plant a squash seed, get a squash, unless yet another of nature’s rules intervenes, such as survival of the fittest squirrel or cutworm or squash bug. When it comes to planting any seed, it will have its own set of rules.  Too deep for one is just right or too shallow for another.  Think Goldilocks.  As trying as it may be, knowing thy seeds is much like knowing thy child (or spouse): they are all different and have specific needs that, like it or not, require meeting if they are to thrive.  Okay, back to seeds….  squash seeds, in particular. I grow primarily two types of summer squash. (I’ve put out seeds for winter squash, too, but those disappeared in a downpour the next day. Probably could look in my neighbor’s yard for them, but didn’t have a decent LOW-FODMAP recipe for them anyway, so just waved good-bye.)

4-6 seeds per mound for zucchini squash is a good start.

RULES FOR SUMMER SQUASH

1) Both my summer types – zucchini style and the yellow straight-neck – have the same basic needs list: SUN, WATER, and TIME.

2) Seeds sown in hills – with 5 or so seeds to a mound and a 1/2 inch soil and a sprinkling of pine straw mulch – is my success recipe. My daddy taught me how and his Uncle Jim taught him.

3) Germination to ripened harvest is a couple of months, but the time from production to harvest seems only a few minutes.  It’s a booger keeping up once they start popping. I find it easiest to have a couple of sowing dates (mid-March and mid-April here in Texas) so they don’t all ripen simultaneously. Squash fatigue sets in pretty quickly at my house.  If I miss early seeding because of a late-cool snap, I purchase plants from my local nursery instead of using open-pollinated seeds stored from last year’s crop, a reputable seed company or CSA.

4) Keep squash plants picked to keep them producing.  The flowers are also tasty, which alleviates some squash over-load.  Top a salad with a yellow squash bloom for a lovely edible garnish.  Folks here along the Gulf Coast eat them fried, too.  (I might try that this summer since my daughter found a gluten-free breadcrumb mix for me.  Thinking about using corn flakes as batter…anyone experimented with that?)

Slice squash thin for freezing or dehydrating.

5) Squashes are impatient. Pick while young so they aren’t tough. And since they rot quickly after harvesting, what I don’t eat or share, I slice thin, put on a cookie sheet in the freezer then into containers and back into the freezer.  Since slices freeze individually on the cookie sheet, they easily pour out individually.

Introducing children to gardening is one of my passions. Passing on to them that there are natural rules and consequences we cannot change makes for a more fruitful – and less frustrating – life, for both parent AND child.  So get a packet of squash seeds and grab a kid (your own, preferably).  A bit of spring sweat will turn sweet come summer.  In fact, it will be a summer neither of you will soon forget. c:

HIT:Gardening with kids teaches EVERYONE patience!

Easy to grow from seed: LET US have LETTUCE!

Some of the new kids on the block...or at least in MY block!

Some of my lettuce is beginning to bolt.  Just when it starts getting too hot in the kitchen and I prefer a cool salad over a warm meal, my salad fixins’ peter out on me.  While I LIKE flowers, when a stalk shoots up on lettuce to produce flowers – thus producing seeds – I know my fresh-from-the-garden lettuce days are numbered.

'Vulcan' lettuce from seed, new to my garden this year.

A few things about growing lettuce…..

1) Most salad greens – like lettuce and spinach – prefer cool weather.  That means the Gulf Coast version of winter makes perfect growing conditions, while summer (and spring and fall) are too hot for them.  They bolt, another word for “going to seed” as my grandmother called it.  When they start this route in order to propagate (make babies), the leaves soon turn bitter. I do have a couple of varieties that last a little longer: ‘Red Sails’ and an oakleaf type whose seeds came to me from a neighbor.  She calls it “Israel lettuce” and says seeds traveled to Texas in an unnamed pocket after a visit to the Holy Land. Jury’s still out on several new ones – a tennis ball heirloom I bought from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, ‘Vulcan’ that Sakata Seeds sent me and an organic blend given to me by Territorial Seed Company – to see how they do in the heat.*
2) They key is to NOT dig a hole for the tiny seeds; instead, dot them around on moist, scratched dirt and top with a sprinkling of potting soil.  Keep them damp, but don’t pour water. The deluge will dislodge the seeds and they’ll end up sprouting somewhere else, like at your neighbor’s house.
3) I start putting out seeds around Labor Day and plant a few more in a couple of weeks.  By Halloween, I’ve got enough salad to feed my subdivision.  I have enough to feed my family long before that.
4) Some folks swear they’ve found a good summer greens substitute with Malabar spinach.  I’ve grown this vine and while it is pretty, its taste is a bit strong to me.
5) Lettuce makes a great bed edging if you are more into aesthetics than edibles.
6) Salad greens work GREAT in pots if you are yardless, or if you have trouble bending to garden.
7) Different types of greens have different nutrient levels. Texas A&M put together a chart to show you what’s what.

HIT:lettuce is easy to grow from seed!

So…..would you like some seeds?  Leave a comment to tell me and I’ll mail some out when mine go to seed.  We’ll have a salad together.  Wanna try the Vulcan? Don’t know if it will last the summer, but put enough of my Asian dressing on it and I think even my garden clogs might taste pretty good!

Live long and prosper.

(*While I do not receive compensation, I was paid in SEED MONEY…..got free seeds from Territorial and Sakata companies.)

YOU CAN GROW THAT! POTATOES

Don't let taters-gone-native go to waste!

I can be lazy.

While that statement sounds very much like I AM lazy, the distinction is an important one.  For most of my life, it’s been difficult for me to even sit still, much less completely veg out.  Those days are over. Has my personality morphed, choleric gone phlegmatic?  Probably not.  When it comes to continuous, never-ending chores – such as house or yard work – my conscience has simply relaxed at the expense of years.  It seems my friend Brenda Beust Smith, the self-proclaimed LAZY GARDENER, must have arrived at the prescribed age of ease-allowance before I did, robbing me of the title.

Combine my newfound laissez-faire chore blinders, an obnoxious obsession for recycling (stemming more from being cheap AND creative than any environmental crusade), and a desire to buck time-tested gardening rules and what do you get?

The sum is often disaster. Last week’s discovery, however, will be dinner tomorrow night: plenty of yummy new potatoes.

Suppertime spuds? DIG IT!

HIT: sprouted potatoes beg to be planted!

Seed potatoes should be bought and then planted early in spring, according to the rules here in my part of Texas. My version?  Smelled something funny in the pantry after returning from vacation in October, my nose leading me to a bag of organic new potatoes pushed behind a cereal box. They weren’t so new anymore.  Already sprouted, I tucked them – untreated and uncut – into my garden after yanking my frost-bitten tomatoes out.  So here it is, 1st week of March, and my potatoes are faster food than a crowded drive-through at dinner-time.  Just pop them into a few cups of boiling water in my pressure cooker, top with a bit of olive oil, sea salt and rosemary sprigs and serve.  Sounds even lazier than a trip under the golden arches, huh?  Just sit and wait for the timer to go off!

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