Welcome to the February issue of Garden Ramblings. This month there are again three articles by guest authors.
With more and more people growing their own I thought it would be useful to devote this issue to vegetables. So we start off with an article from Kazz whose "Great Vegetable Varieties To Grow In A Home Garden" is a useful overview to help you decide what to grow this year.
Next Bob Alexander gives us his advice on "When To Plant Tomato Seeds". And it's not just about the planting - "Selecting the seeds that you're going to use is almost as much fun as sticking them in the potting mixture".
Our final guest author is Arthur McLay whose somewhat unexciting title "Growing Herbs with Vegetables" leads to an article that demontrates how growing herbs among your vegetables gives you not only plants that add flavour to your cooking, but also act as natural pest repellents.
As usual there is a Special Offers section with all the bargains that I've managed to find this month.
To start off the vegetable growing theme this month's video shares some ideas for designing your vegetable garden.
Great Vegetable Varieties To Grow In A Home Garden By Kazz
Depending on where you live, nearly all vegetables are suitable for a home garden. When choosing vegetable varieties to plant, choose varieties that mature earlier if you live in a northern climate. Living in a southern climate lets you plant just about any type of vegetable, which is wonderful when it is planting time. For example, I would love to grow peanuts but I live too far north. My growing season isn't long enough for peanuts to have a chance to ripen before frost.
Tomatoes are probably planted in more home gardens than any other type plant. Although they are actually a fruit, we think of them as vegetables. Tomatoes come in all sorts of different types, red, yellow, cherry and tomatoes special for making sauces. Some of them have been bred to do well in extremely short growing seasons, so you should have no trouble in selecting a variety that will do well for you.
Tomatoes can be staked or caged, saving on garden space. If you let them sprawl, each tomato plant will take up quite a bit of area. Tomatoes also do well in container gardens. An empty 5-gallon bucket works wonderfully for holding and growing a tomato plant. Even though it is in a bucket, it will require staking as the plant grows.
Bell and hot peppers also do great in a home garden. They usually don't need to be staked, as they don't tend to sprawl, but if they are heavily loaded with peppers, you might find it useful. You don't want your lovely plants to break. Just like tomatoes, all pepper varieties do well when planted in large containers.
Green beans are a good choice for the home garden. They take very little space to grow, considering the amount of food they deliver. A couple of short row of green beans will produce enough fresh beans for a whole family during the summer. Plant a few more rows and you will be able to can or freeze enough to last all winter. You can choose from pole beans or bush beans.
Cucumbers are another favorite for the home garden. They do tend to take up quite a bit of space as they are very vining plants. If they are grown on a fence or trellis, they can grow upwards instead of reaching out toward nearby rows. There are also a couple seed varieties of bush type cucumbers available on the market today. If your space is limited, you might want to consider planting some of them. You can plant slicing cucumbers or small pickling type cucumbers.
Zucchini or yellow summer squash also do wonderfully well in a home garden. You will only need a couple plants of each to keep you, and probably even your neighbors, in a good supply of summer squash. The plants are quite large, but they produce an abundance. If you find you have more than you can easily use, you can shred and freeze zucchini and yellow squash. Use it in zucchini bread recipes during the winter. You can also shred it and use it to make delicious pickle relish.
All green leafy vegetables are a good choice. Leaf lettuce, swiss chard and spinach will do very well. Spinach will bolt once the weather starts to get hot, but swiss chard will flourish right up until frost. Keep leaf lettuce picked close and it will keep growing new leaves. Don't pull it up when you harvest, but cut or pinch it off close to the bottom of the plant. I like to keep a planter of leaf lettuce growing near my kitchen door. It makes it very handy to pick a few leaves when I'm making sandwiches.
Carrots, radishes, beets are nice to plant along with lettuce. You will have all the ingredients to hand when you decide to put together a salad. Add onions as well. It is much easier to grow onions from sets than from seed. A small bag of onion sets will give you plenty of green onions to use.
Winter squash and pumpkins are very easy to grow. They will nearly grow untended. If kept cool, they will last long after the garden has been harvested. Their biggest drawback is the amount of space they require. They are very large vining plants, taking up much more space than cucumbers. If you have a large garden space, you might want to grow a few of each plant.
Broccoli is another vegetable that is easy to grow. A dozen plants will give you 12 big heads and lots of side shoots to use after the main head has been harvested. Just be sure to pick both the head and the side shoots while they are tight and green. Don't wait until they show signs of flowering.
Sweet corn is a favorite, but unless you have plenty of room to grow it, I don't recommend it. You need to plant at least 4 rows for good pollination, and each stalk will only produce 1 or 2 ears, so the harvest isn't large. If you have the room, you will definitely want to have a corn patch, though. You can plant the rows as short or as long as you like, just make sure you plant 4 rows wide for good pollination, and no less than 3 rows wide at the very least.
There are many other vegetable that you can grow. I may not have mentioned your favorites. If you have a favorite vegetable, by all means give it a try. It might do splendidly for you. I plant a very large garden each year. It usually consists of sweet corn, bush green beans, pole lima beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, beets, lettuce, onions, carrots, broccoli, pumpkins, butternut squash, zucchini, yellow squash, garden peas and sunflowers. I usually try to plant at least one new vegetable variety each year. In the past I have also grown eggplant, watermelon, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pinto beans, kidney beans, white potatoes, sweet potatoes and popcorn.
Fortunately, I love canning and preserving. I have a large cellar in which to keep my finished jars of home canned produce. I rarely have to buy any vegetables from the store, even during the winter months. I'm able to go to my cellar and choose from the rows of pretty jars lined up on the shelves.
If you have room, you should give vegetable gardening a try. Even if you only have room for a couple of tomato or pepper plants in containers, it is well worth the effort.
It is almost time to start planting tomato seeds for this summer's crop. Even though there is still snow on the ground in many parts of the country, planting these tiny seeds gives us something to do while we're waiting for warmer weather.
Perusing seed catalogs for different kinds of tomatoes is not only fun, but necessary if you are going to select just the right plants for your garden. A visit to your local Wal-Mart or seed store can provide you with a few tomato seed varieties. If you want something different, order it from a seed catalog or on the internet.
Selecting the seeds that you're going to use is almost as much fun as sticking them in the potting mixture. I plant both types of tomatoes in my garden; determinate and indeterminate plants.
The former are plants that mature all at the same time with a lot of fruit. The latter are the ones that keep producing new shoots and new fruit throughout the growing season. It is exciting to plant both and brag about the abundance you have in your tomato garden.
There are also the early, mid-season and late varieties that will cover the entire growing season where ever you live. In order to have just the right color in your garden, there are red, pink, green, yellow, orange and gold tomato plants.
Mixed in with all this blend of color, are the plants with very dark fruit with names like black cherry, black zebra, Cherokee purple and black plum. There are also tomatoes that are red with green stripes, golden yellow with red stripes and yellow orange with red streaks.
After daydreaming about a huge garden with at least one of each plant in the catalog, it is time for a reality check. Select a few varieties that you would like to plant and put them in the potting mix to germinate.
It's important that you start with a good quality potting soil even though some commercial growers use a mix of old sawdust and sand. I find that potting soil with a little vermiculite added to make it loose, works just fine.
Start the seed about five to six weeks before the last anticipated frost. This schedule will allow the plant that you have started from seed, to hit the garden when the soil temperature is warm. If the soil is too cool the plant will just sit there and leave you scratching your head as to why it's not blooming.
Almost everyone who has any kind of garden, whether it is vegetable or flowers, have leftover flats that old plants occupied last spring. I use these as well as old yogurt cups to start my tomatoes. Plant the seeds about an eighth of inch deep and they should flourish, if they are good seeds.
Over the years I have learned that young tomato plants like a breeze so they can dance in the wind. After they have a couple of leaves on them, place a small fan set on low near the seedlings and they will think they're in the garden and all grown up. They appear a little stronger than those raised without air stirring around them.
When the plants get four leaves on them, transplant the ones that you have in flats to a cup or pot of their own. When spring arrives, place the plants outside for a few hours a day. This will let them harden up and be ready to be placed in your garden. The elapsed time from setting the seed to setting the plant is about seven to eight weeks.
Another option for growing tomato plants is to wait until spring and buy the seedlings that are already six to eight inches tall. It is easier that way, but not nearly as much fun as starting them from seed and watching them grow.
Here's a question: why do herbs have strong tastes and smells? The answer is that those tastes and smells ward off insects and animals that might otherwise try to eat them. And that's why growing herbs with your vegetables is a great idea. Not only does the 'defense mechanism' of herbs make them taste delicious to us, we can also harness their pest-repellent characteristics to help protect our otherwise defenseless vegetables.
Some of the best herbs for protecting your vegetables AND seasoning your food are listed below. Note that while there are other herbs which also do a good job of keeping away insects and animals (such as pennyroyal), they're perhaps less popular and useful for seasoning food, so they don't have the dual functionality of the ones listed.
Thyme. Great in meat dishes, casseroles and soups, fresh thyme should (unlike most herbs) be added early in cooking, as added later it will retain too much of its bitterness. Thyme repels cabbage worm, so it's great planted with your cabbages.
Lemongrass. Lemongrass is of course widely used in south-east Asian cuisines like Thai and Vietnamese. In your vegetable garden, lemongrass repels any and all insects, making it a very useful feature no matter what you happen to be growing.
Garlic. Needing little introduction, garlic (which may be an herb or a spice, depending on how you see things) is one of the most well-known food flavorings in the world. It's often paired with onion and/or tomato and it has given us the delicious snack 'garlic bread'. For repelling garden pests, garlic is a powerhouse. Plant it close to vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, eggplant and cabbage, and it will keep pests like cabbage worms, aphids, slugs and a host of other nasties away. It's no surprise that garlic is a favorite among organic vegetable growers.
Rosemary. Rosemary and lamb may be one of the most divine meat-and-herb pairings ever conceived, and it would be wrong to even think of cooking lamb without a healthy supply of rosemary on hand. It has a 'woodsy' flavor that complements lamb perfectly. In your vegetable garden, rosemary is a friend to your beans, carrots, and cabbages. This is because it naturally deters bean beetles, carrot fly, and cabbage moth.
Sage. Soft sage leaves are perfect with Mediterranean food in general and with pork. Sage plants exude camphor from their leaves, and like rosemary, this drives off carrot fly and cabbage moth.
Growing herbs with vegetables, known as "companion planting", is one of the keys to organic vegetable growing. With a little planning, the right herbs can in most circumstances entirely replace your use of chemical pesticides, which are never a good idea when used around something that you're later going to eat, no matter what they say on the side of the can. So they're kind of like a delicious pesticide you actually want to add to your food - not a bad deal!
About the Author
Arthur McLay is a herb grower enthusiast and author of the book "The Secrets of Herb Growing". To learn more about growing herbs with other plants visit www.herbgrowingcenter.com
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