Friday, January 19, 2018

Kogigu Squash An Heirloom Winter Squash



Anyone else having a  love affair with heirlooms?  So excited that there is a renewed interest in these incredible vegetables and fruits with a heritage and history.  I decided to do a weekly post highlight an heirloom I have grown and love. Part of what keeps me so engaged in gardening is the endless heirlooms available. Planting them is like transplanting a small piece of  culture and history in your own backyard.  In a few square feet are crops from all over the world.  Who needs to travel when your backyard is an exotic destination of world wide produce.

This exquisite squash is a Japanese tradition. Kogigu (c. moschato) is a prolific producer of 1 to 2 lb squash.  I love the deep ribs and waxy texture.  This little beauty starts out a deep rich green and as it ripens it turns an earthy brownish orange.  The flesh is a beautiful bright orange with a sweet fruity taste.  It is very fine grained.



Keeping quality is an amazing 8 months.  These Kogigu were harvested in September of 2017.  They have been stored in my garage.  Ideally you would not want temperatures to get below 50 degrees to get the longest storage life.  So fantastic that I can still enjoy the fruits of my labors in the garden mid January.



Give this one a try.  It does need room to sprawl but was very easy to grow.  It will cross with other squash in the c. moschato family which includes butternuts and Long Island Cheese.  The puree makes great pies and desserts.  They can be prepared using your favorite butternut squash recipe.

Generally c.moschato  are more insect and disease resistant and do well in hot humid summers.  Check out Baker Creek Rare Seeds to purchase and start saving your own seeds.



Monday, January 15, 2018

Feeding Your Family From the Garden



Last spring, I was giving someone a ride and in the back of my Jeep I had an assortment of plants.  They asked if I needed help planting the garden.  For me, planting is not a one time event.  I'm always planting something because my goal is to always have something to harvest from the garden.

Most people are hobby gardeners and there truly is no more rewarding hobby, but can gardening really provide food for you family year round?  Is it affordable and possible? This has been my goal the last 13 years in New Harmony.  The key to being able to feed your family from your garden instead of the grocery store is in proper planting times, crop protection, and succession planting.  Most gardeners hit the garden centers around Memorial Day in my area and plant the garden in one day. Don't misunderstand nothing is wrong with that I just have a more extensive vision.


Gardening season never ends in my mind.  Four season gardening and succession planting provides our family with continual harvests.  Canning, drying, and freezing take care of the winter months and hunger gap.

So while most people plant once. I am always harvesting and planting and weeding except in the winter then I am pouring over seed catalogs and planning out the year.

If time and interest are concerns then gardening as a hobby in the summer is great but, yes, you absolutely can eat year round from a garden.  It is very rewarding and delicious experience. With the prices in the grocery store on the rise, it is also much more affordable.  The health benefits and safety of your food are also a bonus. Flavor is what will get you hooked and keep you hooked on producing your own food.  Whether home grown veggies, fruits, or meat there is no comparison.

This approach requires more planning and planting.  It starts with you seed order.  You need to have enough seed of crops you plan on continually harvesting.  Cool season crops can be planted in early spring and then again in late summer with minimal protection and you have fall harvests.  Certain crops like carrots and beets can be seeded every couple weeks until the end of May and then seeded in late summer for fall harvests.  Carrots and beets harvested in fall overwinter in your refrigerator giving you fresh carrots and beets through the winter.  Other good crops to store for winter meals are winter squash, rutabagas, kohlrabi, and parsnips.



So to those like minded individuals who enjoy the lifestyle of self-reliance and provident living dig in and enjoy the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from providing as much of your own food as possible. So spend less time in grocery store and more time in the garden.  Get those seed catalogs and a calendar and start planning!


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Sow Many Seeds!



A blanket of snow in the garden, freezing temps, and a warm fire are all it takes to start the wheels of inspiration going for next years spring plantings.  With a pile of seed catalogs, last years garden journal, and a lot of new ideas floating around in my head I begin the planning process. 

 While some are content with the seed rack at the local garden center, I am always fascinated with browsing every seed catalog, reading descriptions, and trying new crops and varieties.  I think tomatoes, greens, and pumpkins are my weakness.  Not to mention annuals and bulbs and a new interest in grains and cover crops.  A little obsessive ---but it's a healthy obsession.  So what ever your level of interest, knowing a few basics about seeds will result in  more success in the garden.


"Bad seed is robbery of the worst kind:  for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved."  George Washington

I think our Founding Father reveals a great goal when it comes to horticulture:  each season should result in an improvement in your garden, landscape, orchard, etc.  It all starts with selecting good seed.




What is a Seed?


Seeds are an amazing miracle consider this:

"In every viable seed, nature has packed an embryo and a small food supply, a sort of box lunch, to nourish it during its seed life.  The nucleus of every cell in that seed contains in its DNA the complete instructions for making a plant like itself.  If we could translate this genetic information into instructions spelled out in English, the written blueprint for spinach might require several hundred volumes, each about 800 pages long."  (The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough p.2)



Seed Anatomy


1.  The embryo which will develop into the plant under the right conditions.

2.  The endosperm which provides food for the the germinating seedling in the form of carbs, proteins, or fats.

3.  The seed coat:  Keeps oxygen and moisture out and protects the seed from damage by insects and disease.  




Types of Seeds


Open Pollinated
Open pollinated seeds will produce true to type plants if self pollinated or pollinated by the same cultivar.  Pollination occurs by natural means through wind, insects, humans, or other natural methods.  Seeds from open pollinated varieties can be saved but steps must be taken to prevent cross pollination.  New open pollinated varieties are continually being developed. (such exciting news!) Open pollination ensures biodiversity in plants and is important to the health of agriculture.

Heirlooms
Heirlooms are open pollinated but not all open pollinated varieties are heirlooms.  To be considered an heirloom the seeds should be older than 40-50 years.  They generally have a history and are handed down from one generation to the next and are grown in a specific region. Heirlooms have adapted to the soil and climate of that region.  They are sometimes named after the seed saver or region they came from.

Hybrids
Hybridization requires the controlled pollinating of two different species to create a desired trait.  The first generation, labeled F1, in seed catalogs grows better because of hybrid vigor.  Seeds saved from hybrid plants are considered unstable and will not produce true to type plants and are less vigorous.  For this reason you must purchase hybrid seed each year.  Hybrids can be stabilized, become open pollinated, over years of growing, selecting, and saving seed.



What type of seed you choose depends on your goals.  I use all 3 in my garden.  If you are not interested in saving seed or the heritage of seeds then hybrids are fine. They are sometimes easier to grow but some open pollinated and heirlooms perform just as well.  

Sometimes you choose a certain variety because of a trait you want or its disease resistance.  So my point is be open to all 3 options and choose what will accomplish your goals.  If you have no to little experience gardening then choosing all heirlooms, which may not adapted to your area, may result in a dismay failure. 




Things to Consider when Choosing Seed


1.  The best advice I can give you is to find  successful local gardeners and see what they recommend.  It's nice to have dependable varieties and a dependable gardening resource.

2.  Then try a few new varieties each year and you may come up with your own list of favorites.

3.  When choosing a variety, look at days to maturity,  you may want to plant early, mid, and late season.  Also be sure your season is long enough for the fruit or plant to mature to harvest.

4.  Understand the symbols
     OP Open Pollinated
     F1  Hybrid
     H Heirloom
     Organic

5.  When reading the description, note if harvest is extended over the season or if the plant sets one crop. Do you want to harvest over a longer period  or have one large harvest for canning and be done?

6.  With beans and winter squash there are bush, semi-bush, and vining.  A vining plant will need trellising or rambling room.  Trellis plants need some protection from winds.  




7.  With tomatoes you have determinate plants which grow to a certain size, stop, then set fruit.  The indeterminate continue growing and producing until a freeze.  They are large and sprawling needing support from tomato cages.



8.  If you container garden look for varieties that are specifically bred for containers.  Likewise there are varieties bred for green house production etc.

9.  Descriptions list disease resistance.  They are abbreviated V (verticillium wilt) ToMV (Mosaic Virus)  The letters may be followed by number designating the race of the virus etc.  Depending on the company they may or may not tell you what the abbreviation stands for. 

If certain diseases are problematic in your area be aware and buy resistant seed.  Resistance means that if the plant gets the disease it will likely survive and produce. This is where your experienced gardening friends will be an asset and can direct you in what diseases may be a problem in your area.

10.  In cucumbers and melons there are varieties that are gynoecious meaning they produce mostly female flowers.  Often standard (monoecious) seeds are included in the pack to ensure pollination.  Parthenocarpic means the ovule produces fruit without fertilization so the fruits are relatively seedless



11.  With corn, which is wind pollinated, you need to plant in large blocks and each variety generally requires isolation.  Plan carefully.  All sweet corn requires isolation from popcorn, ornamental corn, and field corn.





The promise of spring lies beneath the snow.  As days lengthen you can anticipate and plan for spring and summer harvests.  So grab those catalogs, inventory your seeds, have the fire burning, a cup of hot cocoa nearby, and start planning!







Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mulch for Healthier Soil




One of my goals this year is to redo my landscape beds.  As trees and shrubs have matured, light and water requirements have changed in my landscape.  Basically my yard needs a face lift.  Late summer I removed unwanted plants and am excited to plan out new designs.  Of course I am having an extreme deer problem so I may not have much luck with any plantings this spring; nevertheless, winter is a good time to plan and purchase materials needed to spruce up your landscape and garden.  

One of the most beneficial and time saving cultural practices in both the landscape and the garden is mulching.  Mulching results in a healthier garden whether a flower bed or vegetable bed.  Bare soil is not a gardener's friend so the solution is to mulch.



There are 2 types of mulches:  organic and inorganic.  Organic mulches include anything that was formally living such as wood chips, shredded bark, lawn clippings, straw, chopped leaves,  pine needles, compost, or sawdust.  Inorganic mulches would be landscape fabric, plastic, or stone.

Before discussing the various types of mulch, lets look at why the cost and labor of mulching is worthwhile. 

Benefits of Mulch:

  • Conserves moisture by preventing evaporation
  • Maintains soil temperature.  Mulches act as insulators keeping soil warm in winter and cool in summer.
  • Reduces soil erosion and compaction from heavy rains.
  • Reduces annual weeds.  If the mulch is weed free to start with and applied properly it prevents germination of weed seeds.

Added benefits of Organic mulches:  
Because organic mulches are derived from living materials they continue to decompose and improve the soil they cover in a number of ways.

  • The organic mulch provides food for soil microorganisms.  The microorganisms are vital in building your soil.
  • Improved soil structure which results in improved root growth. Microbial organisms secret a substance that binds soil particles together creating pathways for oxygen, water, and root penetration.
  • Mulches reduce soil temperature fluctuation.  Even temperatures allow microbial activity to continue at an even rate.
Your choice of mulch depends on where you are using it.  In the landscape mulches need to be appealing and help with weed control.  In the garden mulches are added to build and benefit the soil.

Compost is the best choice for the vegetable garden.  Other options would be chopped leaves, weed- free straw or hay,  or dried grass clippings.  Decorative wood chips or shredded bark on top of landscape fabric would work well in flower beds and around trees and shrubs or even pathways.
  Looks, longevity, site, and price will all be a factor in choosing a mulch.

Applying Mulch
There are no hard fast rules on how deep to apply a mulch.  You do want to consider the type of soil you have.  Sandy soil needs a thicker layer than clay soil.  A good rule is 2-3 inches.  Anything less than this may not help with annual weed control.

The density of the mulch also will determine how thick you can apply it.  The courser and airier the mulch the thicker it can be applied.  

Apply mulch thicker between plants.  Do not apply the mulch right up to the bark of trees and shrubs this can harbor pests and disease.  Wet mulches against flower or vegetable stems can cause rot.  

Some confuse the term mulch and compost.  Compost is a mixture of decomposed matter.  It can be worked into the soil.  When it is added on top of the soil it is referred to as a mulch.

Using compost as a mulch has many benefits:
  • Prevents some weed seeds from germinated and makes it easy to pull those that do pop up
  • Keeps the soil cool and moist cutting down on water needs
  • Compost does add some nutrients to the soil but is not a substitute for fertilizers.
  • Encourages earthworm and microbe activity which improves the tilth and structure of the soil
  • Keeps dirt from splashing up on plants reducing soil borne diseases
  • Prevents the freezing then thawing of the soil which causes plants and seeds to heave from the soil.

Cautions about mulching:

Stone mulch heats up considerably and can burn the leaves and structures it touches.  Stone also does not decay and improve the soil. Its difficult to pull weeds from and to rake leaves out of.

Wood based mulches will temporarily tie up nitrogen in your soil.  The microorganisms pull nitrogen from the soil to decompose the wood.  You can reduce this effect by first applying a high nitrogen fertilizer such as cottonseed meal, blood meals or a manure. 




Organizing and Ordering Seeds




 It's windy, cold, and a little stormy outside!  The perfect time to plan the spring and summer garden.  No winter blues for me; I'm already planning for spring greens and  summer harvests.  Winter is a great time to evaluate your gardening successes and failures.  Do you want better and more consistent harvests? Too often, the garden is an afterthought thrown together on a free weekend and after one trip to the garden center. The key to successful gardening is giving it some fore thought and careful planning. There are winter garden chores that will help guarantee better success this spring, and the nice thing about winter garden chores is that they can be done inside by the warmth of a fire.


Organize  Your Seed Supply: 


Discard old seeds  Except for dried beans which are used as food, I generally do not keep seeds older than 3 or 4 years. Every variety of seed has a different "shelf life" but 3-5 years is a good average.  It's not that you will not have some older seeds germinate, but that the older seeds have a poor germination rate and the less vigorous the plants.  Good germination rates save you time and money in the long run.   Fresh seeds will keep you from having to replant and allow you to use your space more productively and eat continually  from your garden.  

Organize Seeds by Cool and Warm Season Crops.  Cool crops, or spring crops, include all greens, pac choi, peas, kale, chard, beets, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas, and kohlrabi.  Warm season crops include beans, corn, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and melons. We want to organize this way because cool season crops or spring crops will be planted as soon as soil temperature warms up to 45-55 degrees.  Warm season crops won't be planted until later.





Make a Seed Inventory and List of Seeds to Purchase.  This can be done on your computer or in a notebook.  Customize your record to include info you need to help you plan and plant properly. 






Further Divide cool season crops into those you will direct seed and those you may want to start indoors.  All cool season crops can be directly seeded into your garden but if you want a jump-start on the season and you have a plan to protect your crops from late freezes then plan on starting some seeds indoors. Be sure you have adequate lighting and know when to start the seeds so they will be ready at the right time to transplant into the garden  Some good choices to start indoors are lettuce, greens, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. These are also good choices for transplants, if you do not want to start them for seeds.




Plan out your Spring and Summer Garden

This is the fun part.  List every crop you want to try. Browse seed catalogs to get ideas.  Include favorites and be daring enough to try new varieties.  Keep separate lists:  cool season crops, warm season crops, herbs, and annuals.  Perennial seeds require more expertise to start from seed.

As you plan the size of the garden, consider the time you have and plant accordingly. Be honest.  If you don't like or don't have the time to spend in the garden then don't over plant to the point of being overwhelmed.  If you are an experienced gardener, then consider planting enough to can and preserve food through the harvest.  Consider succession planting so you eat continually through the season.  Additional seeds will be needed to succession plant. Or consider venturing into fruits, berries, herbs, grains.... the options are endless. If you are a beginner, I  think it is better to start small and increase as you gain confidence and have success.

 

Browse through Seed Catalogs.  With a written record of what you have on hand, the fun part of browsing through seed catalogs now begins.  Along with descriptions of different varieties, these catalogs are also very helpful at educating both the experienced and inexperienced gardener.  Make sure you include old time favorites and new varieties. 


Order Seeds

If you are using online sources,  winter is the perfect time to order.  Ordering online gives you more options and varieties to choose from.  Certain items like potatoes and onion sets can be ordered now and then you pick the shipping date.  Many offer free shipping this time of year.  I love browsing through seed catalogs.  They have a wealth of knowledge and hints in them.

Favorite Seed Companies:


Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Bountiful Gardens
Jung Seeds & Plants
Peaceful Valley
Pinetree Garden Seeds 
Seed Savers Exchange 
Territorial Seeds 


Lawn and garden stores and nurseries may not have seeds in stock yet.  Your options at a garden center are limited to only a few varieties.  With the recent interest in heirlooms and open-pollinated varieties, nurseries and garden centers are carrying more varieties, but there are so many seeds available to the gardener that it is a shame to limit yourself. Order a few seed catalogs and explore more options. I guarantee they will inspire you.

Before choosing seed varieties, be sure you understand the difference between hybrids, heirlooms, and open-pollinated seeds. Cool season crops are usually biennials which means they need two seasons to produce seeds and would need to be overwintered and would produce seed the second year.   Having open pollinated seeds is less crucial, if you do not plan on doing this.  Heirloom warm season crops are definitely worth trying and are much easier to save seed from. 


   Heirlooms, Open-Pollinated, Hybrids, GMO's: Understanding Seeds



 Order supplies 

I like to order my organic fertilizers and pest control supplies now.  Sometimes organic products are not easily found in the local nursery.  I get lots of calls about pest problems.  If you have to order products, then it delays the management and control of pest and disease.  If you have an orchard, the frequent spray schedule requires that you plan ahead.

These are the basic products I recommend having on hand if you grow a large garden and have the funds.  I also included a bare essentials list for those on a limited budget.



Fertilizers

  • Blood Meal
  • Bone Meal
  • Or any other meal fertilizers you like
  • Azomite or Greensand
  • Liquid Fish Emulsion
  • Liquid Kelp

Organic Sprays



  • Neem Oil (Neem)
  • Pyrethrin (Pyola)
  • Jack's Dead Bug Brew (Spinosad) essential if you have an orchard
  • Serenade (If fungal disease is a problem)
  • Surround Crop Protectant (Kaolin Clay)  essential if you have an organic orchard
When buying organic sprays, be sure they are labeled for organic use. l recommend always checking the active ingredient.  I've listed the active ingredient.


Limited Budget Plan:  

I would invest in compost, Neem oil, bone meal, and liquid fish emulsion. 

Weed Control


Any organic product with citrus oils such as limenol or clove oils are great to spot spray weeds. They are effective and safe.  You may want to try a per-emergent weed control for garden paths or weed cloth barrier.


Compost

You will also need compost.  If you purchase it, look for products without time released fertilizers.  My favorite compost is Nutri-Mulch which is a composted turkey manure. Learning to compost is great option.





Other Possible Supplies:



  • Light weight and medium weight row covers
  • Material for a low tunnel
  • 1-2 Gallon Sprayer (It's worth investing in a good sprayer so you don't waste time fixing and unclogging a cheap one.  Also I prefer a 1 gallon it's easier on the back. For the orchard we have a 15 gallon that attaches to the back of our 4 wheeler.)






Places to purchase supplies:

Garden's Alive carries pyrethrin.  It is sold as Pyola.  Peaceful Valley also carries pyrethrin. Be careful when purchasing pyrethrin products.  There are non-organic chemical versions and additives that are a poor choice for the organic gardener.

The Kaolin Clay is sold as Surround and can be purchased at both recommended garden sites.