Friday, June 30, 2017

Sweet Corn

Roasted and slathered in butter and herbs, nothing says summer more than sweet corn on the cob. Because corn is in the Gramineae family which includes grains and grasses, there are a few cultural practices to keep in mind when planting this crop.

Planting Sweet Corn: Corn needs full sun and good fertile soil.  It is a heavy feeder especially of nitrogen.  It has relatively shallow roots for a tall plant so it is sensitive to moisture fluctuations.  Since corn is wind pollinated it needs special consideration when spacing the plantings. Corn needs to be planted in blocks or 3 rows double planted to ensure good pollination and ear development.  It can be planted 2 weeks after the last frost of your area when soil temperatures reach 60 degrees.  A second and third planting can be made on Mother's Day and Memorial Day.  Always direct seed corn into the garden.

Jubilee sweet corn

Silver Queen sweet corn

Varieties of Sweet Corn

Hybrid sweet corn is planted most by the home gardener. Most people love the high sugar content of these corns. On the seed packet or in the seed catalogs sweet corns are one of 3 types SU standard sugary, SE sugary enhanced, or SH2 super sweet corn.  There are differences in these corns and choosing what will grow in your planting will result in success. 

SU Standard Sugary:  Lower sugar content.  Germinates in cooler soils. Easy to grow with good germination rates.  My favorite is Silver Queen with its white kernels, two to three ears on 7 ft stalks. Jubilee is a yellow corn with 2 ears on 7 ft stalks. Both are good fresh eating and freezing varieties.  These two varieties have proven productive and reliable in my garden They need 80- 92 days to mature and you need to stagger the planting so they don't cross pollinate.

SE Sugary Enhanced:  Higher sugar content, Maintains quality longer after harvested.  Good fresh eating and frozen.  Double Delicious

SH2 Super Sweet Corn:  Poor germination, extra sweet, Isolation required from SE and SU types.

Field Corns are dominate so if you are near a huge commercial field you will have to plant, if possible, so your corn does not tassel at the same time as the field corn.

Other types of corn:

Don't limit yourself to just sweet corn.  There are open pollinated, dent, flint, and popcorns.  Sweet corn is eaten in the immature milky stage while other corns are allowed to mature on the stalk until dried and used as a grain to grind into corn meal, animal feed, or popped.

Open pollinated:  If you prefer the old fashioned flavor of corn without the sweetness this is a good choice. One choice that is easy to find is Golden Bantam

Flint Corn:  Flint corn is also known as Indian corn.  There are colorful ornamental cultivars and those that can be used as polenta or ground into cornmeal.  Some varieties I have tried are Bloody Butcher, Hopi Blue, and Polenta
Polenta corn a flint corn

Popcorn:  Technically popcorn is a flint corn that is the best option for popping.  So you are not disappointed movie popcorn is the snowball type and pops bigger than mushroom type popcorns.  There are lots of fun popcorns to try in a variety of colors.  They are actually becoming popular as a gourmet treat.

Dent Corn:  As dent corn dries, a dent is formed in the top of the kernel.  Dent corns are used as animal feed, for corn syrup, and used to make biodegradable plastics.  This probably isn't the choice for the home gardener but and option if you have livestock.
Squash is a good companion with corn.
The tassel which produces the pollen.


Before planting  you need to understand how corn is pollinated.  All corn varieties are wind pollinated and will cross pollinate.  Pollen is produced by the tassel of the corn which is the male part.  A good healthy corn will produce one or more ears along the stalk of the corn.  This is the female part and includes the ear and the emerging silks.  The pollen must go from the tassel to the silk.  This is accomplished with the help of the wind.  Each pollinated silk becomes a kernel on the ear of corn.
The silks of the ear.  Each individually pollinated silk
becomes a kernel on the cob.

Corn pollen is extremely light and can be carried long distances by the wind.  As I mentioned all corn will cross pollinate.  If your corn is tasseling at the same time as your neighbors or a commercial field then chances are there will be cross pollination.

Concerning your neighbor who is probably planting sweet corn. If cross pollination occurs eating quality is affected.  If SU, SE, SU2 are planted together and tassel at the same time they will cross pollinate..  SE and sh2 types are recessive to su types.  Field corn, Indian, and popcorn are dominant.  If planting more than one variety they must have different maturity dates and tasseling times.

Watering and Fertilizing

Sweet corn requires regular consistent watering.  Watering is critical during tasseling, silk development, and ear formation.  Water stress results in stunted growth and poor flavor.

Work a dry fertilizer and compost into the soil before planting. Corn is a heavy feeder. Side dress corn when it is a foot tall with bone meal.  Side dress again when the silks appear.  Also fertilize with fish emulsion at these times.  Mulch when plant are young to keep the wind from drying the soil out.

Corn Earworms

Spinosad and Neem are effective against Corn Earworms.  Female moths lay eggs on tips of corn silks.  The larvae feed off the silks and move on down eating kernels.  They emerge and then pupate in the soil.  You can have 1-4 generations of these lovely creatures. The critical time to spray is when the silks begin to dry.  Focus the spray on the tips of corn and around the base of the corn.


Aphids can also be a problem.  An aphid infestation will result in lots of honey dew and can encourage the growth of black mold. The honeydew will attract wasps. While this rarely affects the quality of the corn because it is protected by a tight husk, it weakens the corn and is not pleasant to work around. 

Spinosad and Neem Oil are effective for both of these problems.

Ready to harvest with dry silks, tilted stock and plumb.


Harvest when the ears are plump, silks are dry, and ears tips out.  Enjoy! Sweet corn does not store well in the field.  It does not store long after it has been harvested.  The sugars turn to starch and that great sweet corn  flavor is lost. 

I remove the remaining stalk and some husks and keep it in the refrigerator but don't leave it there long.  Enjoy it fresh. 

To extend the season, I suggest planting two varieties and staggering the plantings so you can enjoy fresh corn longer.  The two varieties I like are Silver Queen and Jubilee.  Both are great for eating fresh and they both process well.  You can freeze corn on the cob or can it in a pressure canner.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Fall Orchard Care & Disease Prevention

With the fruit harvest winding down, don't neglect some essential chores that are necessary in the organic orchard.  My peach trees are already dropping  leaves creating a beautiful golden carpet on the orchard floor.

Keep Watering

While leaves are busy showing their color, underground there is some significant root growth occurring.  The tree is sending nutrients to the roots so watering is still critical until the ground freezes.

Do Not Fertilize

Once the leaves drop nutrient uptake stops.  Fertilizing is not necessary in the fall.


Clean up the Orchard

Remove any fallen fruit or fruit remaining on the tree.  Fruit left on the tree will mummify and if infected with any disease will act as an inoculate the next spring. It's a good idea to check the trees after leaf fall to make sure there is no fruit remaining on the tree.


 Mow Weeds

Mow down any weeds or grass.  Clean weeds out of the tree wells.


Apply Compost

In the fall, repair, fix, and enlarge your tree wells.  The well should reach the drip line of the tree.  Fall is a great time to add a light layer of compost. Mostly compost is added to avoid leaving a bare soil through the winter.  Most of the compost applied in the spring has been worked into the soil.  We add grass clipping this time of year. Be sure that you only use clippings from an organically managed lawn free of herbicides and pesticides.  The compost applied on top of fallen leaves will aid in their decomposition. 

Remove Leaves if Scab has been a problem

Apple scab is more of a problem in areas with cool, moist summers which is not the case in my area.  However, if you do have problems with scab you must clean up the leaf litter because the spores overwinter on the leaves.  Spring applications of sulfur and a fall application of copper after leaf fall will help.


Apply final spray of the season

When 50-60% of the leaves have fallen, apply the last spray of the season.  This spray helps to decompose and break down the fallen leaves.  I leave all leaf litter in the orchard.  A spray of fish emulsion and neem oil should be targeted at the trunk, branches, and the ground.  According to Micheal Philips, author of The Holistic Orchard, this helps with leaf decomposition, defend against bacterial and fungal disease in bark crevices, and the nitrogen in the fish emulsion helps with spring bud growth. In the fall, tree roots are in full stride seeking out nutrients to store in the cambium tissue.  The fish fertilizer will help with this and ensure healthy spring growth.  This is an important spray do not skip this step in managing your orchard.

Apply a spray of Copper after leaf fall.

Copper is effective in preventing many fungal and bacterial diseases.  I go into more detail about copper and what is controls and how to apply it.  


Remove any limb spreaders

Limb spreaders are used on younger trees to develop good scaffold branches.  In the fall the limb tissues have hardened off and the spreaders are no longer necessary.  Leaving them on the trees through winter will allow snow and ice to accumulate on them and possible break branches.

Install tree guards on younger trees.

Young bark is a tempting treat for voles, mice, and rabbits. Their gnawing can girdle you trees.  Tree guards protect the bark from damage.  I use a spiral plastic guard.  I put them on young trees  before the first snowfall and remove them in the spring.

Whitewash tree trunks

White washing tree trunks prevents sun scald injury on the trunks. Sun scald injury occurs when there are fluctuations in temperatures. The bark exposed to south and southwest sun become active with warm afternoon temperatures.  They lose some of the cold hardiness because of this and are injured when temperatures drop to below freezing.  To make the white wash, mix latex interior paint with water 1:1.  Paint the entire trunk and lower scaffold of the branches. Do not use exterior paint. Some have antimicrobial products added that can damage the tree.

Disease Prevention and Copper

When leaves fall from your tree it leaves a small scar.  Fungal spores and bacteria can enter these scars causing disease. Theses diseases can effect buds, leaves, fruit, and in some cases the entire tree.

Copper is a broad spectrum fungicide which controls bacterial canker, Coryneum blight or shot hole, anthracnose, bacterial leaf spot, black rots, blights, downey mildews and Septoria leaf spot.

It has been used since the 1700's and is an approved organic spray.  It inactives important enzymes in fungi and bacteria.

Copper does not concentrate in the plant tissue but does persist in the soil.  It should be sprayed as in dormant season after leaf fall in the fall and before bud break in the spring if necessary.  Over-apllication should be avoided.  Only spray if fungal disease is an issue in your orchard.

Wear appropriate clothing including long sleeves, pants, hat, and gloves.  Protect your eyes and skin because it can irritate them. Follow directions on the product you purchase as well as safety recommendations.

You can purchase fixed copper as a spray or dust.  Copper is protectant so cover the entire tree surface.  You are creating a barrier to prevent invasion by spores and disease organisms.  As I mentioned before it best used after leaf fall because you are trying to protect leaf scars from becoming an entry point for disease. 


Give Thanks for another good harvest.

The Lord has blessed our family with another bountiful harvest.  I'm grateful for the land we cultivate and the harvests it yields.  It provides us with fresh food and a pantry full of produce to enjoy throughout the year.  The work is so satisfying and each year I learn more.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ground Covers or Living Mulches

Ground covers are both practical and beautiful in the landscape.  Ground cover plants will fill in to form a dense planting, a living carpet.  This is not only aesthetically pleasing but it serves many purposes.  Living mulches discourage weeds, hold in moisture, prevent erosion, and are easy to care for.  Ground covers are perennials and spread easily on their own.  

There are ground covers to fill every need from shade, part shade, to hot spots in the garden.  While this is by no means a complete list, here are some of my favorites.

Bishop's Weed or Goutweed Aegopodioum Podgraria

This ground cover comes with a warning it spreads through the rootstocks and can get out of control if not managed.  I love this ground cover with its variegated white and green leaves and lacy white flowers.  Bishop's weed grows about a foot tall and the small flower stalks can grow up to 20 inches.  It looks great in a shaded rock garden or among taller perennials such as foxglove or delphinium.  If Bishop's weed is planted in full sun, the leaf edges may burn.  To prevent leaf scorch and encourage it to spread rapidly plant in rich moist soil.

Bishop's Weed

This is a variegated cultivar you can see bulbs mixed in.

Bugleweed Ajuga Reptans

This ground cover has it all beautiful textured foliage and spikes of lavender flowers.  It hugs the ground and spreads rapidly.

The flowers bloom late spring and are 4 -8 inches tall.  There are many varieties of bugleweed.  My favorites are those with variegated leaves and  burgundy leaves.  

Bugleweed likes partial light to full shade.  It needs fertile and even moisture.  

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff Gallium Oboratum

Bright green foliage and white starlike flowers make this ground cover a perfect combination with spring bulbs.  The leaf pattern is what I like about sweet woodruff.   It has narrow leaves that whorl around the stem and petite white flowers.   It grows 6-8 inches.  It spreads by underground runners.  

This is a good choice for shade gardens with a woodland feel. Sweet woodruff is beautiful with hostas, ferns, and astilbes.  In warm climates, it may even hang onto its leaves through the winter.  Once again choose a site with light to dense shade and keep the soil moist.

Fragaria "Lipstick" Ornamental Strawberry

This little charmer produces lipstick pink flowers in spring and fall.  It will produce some berries but it is best to remove the berries to encourage flowering.  Like strawberries it can be divided and has runners.  It is a cross between a garden strawberry and marsh cinquefoil.  It grows well in containers, hanging baskets, or as a ground cover.

Snow in the Summer Cerastium Silver Carpet 

This profusely blooming evergreen perennial has dainty white flowers on mounded silver grey foliage that resembles a pile of snow in the summer.  This ground cover is a member of the carnation family and will bloom early summer.  It can be started from seed in the late spring or divisions can be taken from existing plants in the fall.  It loves full sum or partial shade and an added bonus is that the deer will leave it alone.

Lamb's Ear

For a taller perennial that will cover the ground lamb's ear is a good choice.  It produces beautiful spikes of lavender flowers that bees love.  The foliage is velvety soft and fuzzy and a beautiful silver grey color.  If you allow this hardy perennial to go to seed it will self seed everywhere.  To control it cut the flower stocks before they go to seed.  It can also be propagated by division in the fall.  This ground cover is very drought tolerant and deer resistant.

Dead Nettle Lamium

This ground cover has serrated, silver grey leaves.  The lovely small flower spikes are similar in appearance to snapdragons.  This grows well in containers as well as in the garden.  It looks gorgeous among hostas.  It spreads by rooting and is both drought and deer resistant.  The name is interesting.  The leaves resemble stinging nettle which is a weed but the "stingers" on this Lamium are harmless or "dead."  It is actually in the mint family.

Creeping Phlox

This perennial forms mounds of dense flowers in early spring.  There are a variety of colors making the ground cover a bold addition to your garden.  It is a spring bloomer.  After blooming you can divide creeping phlox or  cut it down to encourage denser foliage for the summer.  The foliage is not as attractive as other ground covers so keep that in mind when finding a spot for it.  It prefers full sun.

Living mulches or ground covers have endless possibilities and potential.  They are a functional and beautiful and should have a place in every garden.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Early Summer Garden Chores

Ok it's way too hot for June, but luckily our nights still cool down. My chore lists are based on what I am doing or what needs to be done this time of year.  The more experienced you become at gardening the less overwhelming these chores seem. My goal as a gardener is to eat year round out of my  gardens so I probably have more "chores" than most backyard gardeners.  

Flowers are important to the gardener because they provide nectar for native pollinators and beneficial insects.

Shade loving plant have the right idea with the summer heat.

General Chores:
  •  Be sure to check your water systems and make sure your crops are receiving even moisture
  • Water stress causes misshapen, bitter, and small fruits
  • Start thinking about your fall and winter garden and check on what seeds you need.
An orchard ladder is a great investment.  It's stable, lightweight, and easy to get into the center for the tree for pruning, picking, and thinning.

Climbing the cherry tree.

In the Orchard:
  • Apples and peaches are sizing up so be sure the trees have adequate moisture
  • Continue with the summer spray schedule of Neem Oil, Spinosad, fish emulsion, and kelp every 10-14 days. Kaolin clay is also recommended.  This will control colding moth and aphids along with other pests.
  • If you have not thinned your fruit do so before the heavy loads break branches.  Also if you don't thin you will set a poor crop next year.  The buds for next year are developing along with this year's fruit.

In the Garden:
 Beautiful companion planting combo of 
cauliflower, onions, and celery.

Cool Season Crops:

  • Be sure to check daily and harvest cool season crops.  You should be harvesting broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and lettuce.
  • I put a shade over my lettuce to extend the harvest
  • You can plan on leaving some peas on the vine to save as seed.  Your peas must be open pollinated or heirlooms to do this.
  • Some lettuce will go to seed and it is fairly easy to save seed from lettuce
  • Biennials such as rutabagas, carrots, collards etc should have seeds set and be close to harvesting
A beautiful purple cauliflower Grafetti.

Cheddar cauliflower starting to form.

  • Cauliflower does best if the inner leaves are clothes pinned shut around the developing head.  Be sure to check frequently so the head does not begin to open. You want to harvest both cauliflower and broccoli when the buds are tight.
This is a conical shaped cabbage that is early and good for areas with hot summers are hard on the late cabbages.

  • Harvest early cabbages
  • Harvest outer leaves of chard and kale
  • Celery is also close to harvest time.
  • Continue to harvest side shoots of broccoli
I like Waltham and Premium Crop varieties.

  • Sow a last planting of beets and carrots
  • You may be close to harvesting carrots and beets depending on when you planted
  • Remove scapes from garlic.  The are the flower or garlic.  You want to cut them off so the energy is focused on developing the cloves.

Warm Season Crops

  • When sweet corn is knee high fertilize with fish emulsion
  • Stake tomatoes up
  • Cut lower leaves from plant up to first flowering.  This helps with disease control
  • Remove any plants infected with curly top.  It is caused by a virus and there is no cure
  • Until peppers mature in size pick off the flowers so you have a stronger plant to support fruiting
  • Squash bugs are here!  Check for eggs and pull off the leaf or squish the eggs. Squash any squash bugs you see.  Continue with the preventative spray routine:  Neem oil, fish emulsion, and kaolin clay.  Add pyretrin if you see squash bugs.

  • Continue to harvest oregano, basil, lemon balm, parsley, thyme, mints, and cilantro
  • Lavender is starting to bloom so prepare to dry some lavender
  • If you enjoy raspberry leaf tea, harvest and dry leaves from primocanes (first year canes)
The seed from cilantro is coriander.

Yarrow is a beautiful flowering herb with medicinal benefits.

You can enjoy continual harvests of berries.  Some berries can be planted in a landscape setting. Below I list berries from earliest to latest harvest dates.
Nanking cherries make a delicious jelly and syrup.

Nanking Cherries while not a berry are a small cherry that makes a fantastic jelly and syrup.  It can be pruned to be a small tree or shrub. 
Gooseberries can be green or pink.  They are very thorny and have a tail that must be removed before preparing.

Next are gooseberries, and black currants.  They need to be checked and picked daily because they do not all ripen at once.  I freeze them as I harvest them until I have enough to process them.

Black currants can be used in jams, jellies, syrups, and for medicinal purposes.

Jostaberries will be ready some time in July along with Pink currants. Both make a great jelly. 

Raspberries are ripening now so pick daily and keep plants watered well during fruiting
I prefer the erect varieties.  They seem to be much more productive than trailing varieties.

Blackberries are starting to develop fruit and also need to be watered well.  You can give berries a drink of fish emulsion during fruit development if you have time.

 It seems like the season is passing so quickly.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor, and remember you always reap what you sow in gardening and life.

Bolting lettuce.  Saving seeds from lettuce is fairly easy.