Friday, July 28, 2017

How To Have Continual Harvests

 OK, if you are serious about gardening and feeding your family fresh organic produce then you need to get rid of the "retail gardener" mind set.  What is the retail gardener?  Someone who starts their garden in conjunction with retail stores creating a "garden center" and then ending the season when retail stores are replacing gardening supplies with Halloween decorations and candy. Not a good trade off.

1.   Determine your planting zone.
Trust me your garden season has nothing to do with when a retail chain store establishes a "garden center."  To determine your garden season you need to know what your planting zone is and then time your planting around that information.

 Timing is important with cole crops like cauliflower and broccoli.  The best tasting crops will be harvested in the fall. You need to determine the maturity date and plant transplants or start seeds so the the harvest times will be staggered.  Spring plantings give you early summer crops and summer plantings give you a fall crop.

2.  Succession Plant
 Second you need to succession plant. There is not one day or time that you plant all you seeds and then you are done.  Every plant has a season and it just so happens that cool season crops have a very long season beginning in spring and extending into fall and winter depending on your set up.  Only the fair weather summer crops have only one season and one planting time.  The seed packets tell you how many days before the Last Average Frost Date you can START planting. The First Average Frost Dates help you determine the last possible date to plant that crop.  You can then staggering the planting of cool season crops throughout the season so you have early summer harvests and fall harvest.

Direct sow in the garden around  mid summer crops like carrots, beets, lettuce, pak choi for a fall harvest.  Transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can also be put out mid summer.  All fall planting should be done before the end of July.

 This is my fall planted broccoli.  I have row covers ready if needed but broccoli enjoys the cool fall weather.  Plus fall harvested broccoli is much better tasting than summer broccoli.
 Summer planted cabbage for fall harvesting.  Baby cabbage or smaller cabbage would be good for a fall crop.  They need to be planted as transplants around the beginning of July.  You can start the seeds indoors early summer or purchase transplants at the nursery.

Pac choi is a great quick growing crop.  Time your plantings so you are harvesting in the fall.  Do that by finding the maturity date on the seed packet and determining when you want to harvest, and then count backwards from the harvest date . Direct seed this crop.

3.  Leave some spring planted crops through the summer

Some crops that many gardeners pull up when the summer heat sets in will perk up and start producing with the cool fall weather.  Broccoli, kale, and chard are examples.  

Spring planted broccoli will give you lots of fall side shoots until your fall broccoli is ready to harvest.  

Kale which complains about summer heat will perk up in the fall.  Just keep picking leaves off through the summer give them to chickens, ducks, goats, or pigs and start eating when the evenings cool off and kale sweetens up. Plant kale where it gets some summer afternoon shade.  Also spray aphids off, remove badly invested leaves, and spray periodically with Neem to control aphids.  With cool fall weather the aphids will no longer be a problem.

Swiss chard does fine through summer and will produce well into the fall. Like kale plant it in an area of the garden that gets afternoon shade. I prefer the taste of it in early summer and fall. The animals get it in mid summer. Chard has few pest issues and is a beautiful and easy crop to grow.  It can also be incorporated into your landscape where it provides stunning color. Just remember to keep removing older leaves.

 Sorrel, which is an perennial,  also perks up in the fall.

 4.  Get to know the cool season crops and learn to cook them.

Get to know the cool season crops.  You may think,  "Well I don't like those foods," but trust me you have not eaten them fresh and in season and you may have not yet learned to prepare them.  So buy some good cookbooks, find a good fresh food cooking blog, or find online recipes.  

These all the vegetables my husband assured me  he, "absolutely" did NOT like: asparagus, rutabagas, mustard greens, cabbage, chard, kale, and squash.  He now eats and loves them all. OK, he's still not a fan of winter squash but he likes the others.

3.  Have a well stock pantry of seasonings and spices.

 Also invest in good seasons and spices or better yet grow herbs. This is what makes fresh produce so delicious.  Learn what spices blend with and enhance what vegetable. 

Learn to make vinaigrette's, sauces, and dressings.  Learn to roast, braise, boil, grill, and bake.  It is very rewarding to grow a vegetable and then preparing it in a way that leaves your family asking for more.  

My 21 year old son is already planning his birthday menu and believe it or not he wants a grilled cabbage recipe as one of the sides.  Yup! It's that good.

5.  Invest in row covers or a frost blanket

You do not need to wait for a greenhouse to extend your season.  Medium weight row covers and a low tunnel can very inexpensively extend your season and allow you to plant earlier.  In low tunnels you can lay a row cover right on the crops and have the additional protection of the tunnel.


6. Never Leave the Ground Bare

Bare ground is not good for the micro organisms which are the basis for good soil and organic gardening.  When you pull up or harvest a plant- replant.  Something.  Just don't leave bare soil.  Carrots, kohlrabi, and beets are great to fill in holes.  No additional fertilizer is need for them. This will give you a continually harvest of these nutritious root crops.

 Golden beets are my favorite.  They are sweeter and milder flavor than red beets.  I love them roasted with other roots crops.

 Another way to avoid bare ground is to plant a late summer cover crop of buckwheat or Austrian peas.  The buckwheat will die with the frost and then can be incorporated into the soil in early spring to decompose.  Peas are more winter hardy and are beneficial nitrogen fixers.

 Buckwheat as a cover crop

 7.  Continue your harvest of summer crops until a freeze.

Don't let a couple of cold days make you give up on your summer crops.  Most of them will continue producing until the first freeze.  

These are some of the summer crops that are still giving great harvests.  This was all harvested on October 20th.  Look at all the food that would not be enjoyed if I had pulled up my garden when the garden centers disappeared from the big chain stores.


 Be sure to pick tomatoes before a rain.  They split with a lot of rain.
 Still harvesting watermelon, muskmelons, cucumbers and lots of peppers. With watermelons you can plant small and large varieties so you have an early and later harvest.
 You can see the broccoli side shoots from spring planted broccoli.  I do two spring plantings of cauliflower to get two harvests.  Cauliflower likes a litter warmer weather than broccoli.

 Just starting to pick winter squash and I still have pumpkins for pies in the garden.

 Caroline are the best raspberries.  They are an everbearing so you get  berries through the summer.  Then another fall crop until the first freeze.   I leave a bowl out to eat fresh then freeze the rest for winter use.

Green zebra heirloom tomato.  So delicious!

 Onions curing under the porch.

8.  Plant early, mid-season, and late varieties when possible 

This works great with potatoes.  Early and mid-season varieties can be enjoyed now and storage potatoes in the late fall and winter.

This is also great when planting tomatoes.  Fourth of July is a great early variety and a mix of heirlooms and hybrids can give you tomatoes until the first freeze.

9.  Prepare you garden beds in the late fall for early spring planting.

When you finally do finish up with a bed, remove all plant debris and weeds and cover with a layer of compost.  Next spring you will just have to add a dry organic fertilizer and you are ready to plant at the right time.

If this seems overwhelming after a couple of seasons it becomes easy.  Just remember you have to reprogram your thinking from a "retail gardener" motivated by marketing strategies to an organic gardener who makes decisions based on the biology of the soil and plants themselves.  
Once you undertake this lifestyle you will eat healthier, enjoy good fresh food, feel better, and enjoy the beauty and bounty of all that a garden has to offer.  You might even enjoy cooking!

Your garden will then feed your family not your frustrations. And in your wildest dreams you would ever want to go back to tasteless store bought produce.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Melon Family: Cantaloupes, Muskmelons, and Honeydew

The melon family, (Cucumix melo) is a  much larger family than most people are familiar with.  And like many families, its members range from the ordinary, extraordinary, to  the odd. One melon missing from this family is the watermelon.  It belongs to an entirely different classification, (Citrullus lanatus), but both families thrive under the same growing conditions.  

Not all melons are sweet.  Melons are thought to originate in Africa and many melons are grown for pickling rather than eating or used as a summer squash in various dishes.  

Here in America we have fixated on the sweet melons which are definitely worth a gardeners attention because these juicy gems pack up the sugar during the final growing days.  This irresistible sweetness will be lacking in a store bought melon.

When a melon is ripe in the field you can actually smell it.  Interestingly in Europe before the luxury of daily bathing fragrance melons were grown. Ladies of the upper class carried a small pocket melon called Queen Anne's to mask the effects of no daily bath.

Types of Melons

All varieties of Cucumis melo will cross with each other.  They will not cross with watermelons or any members of the Cucurbitaceae family.

I mentioned this is a large family of many unfamiliar members, well there are 7 subspecies of recognized groups of melons.

True Cantaloupes

True cantaloupes are not the "cantaloupes" which Americans are familar with.  True canaloupes are grown in Europe.  They have rough scaled rinds with mature fruit that does not slip from the vine.  The skin is not nettled

Chito Group

Chito melons are small lemon sized melons used for pickling.  They include mango melon, garden lemon, and melon apple.

Conomon Group

Are oblong or club shaped fruits grown in Aisa.  They too are used for pickling

Queen Anne's pocket melon

These are also known as pomegranate or plum granny.  They are very fragrant and about the size of an orange.

Flexuosus Group

The popular Armenian cucumber is in this group.  They are also called Snake melons.  Armenians always have a place in my garden they are delicious eaten fresh or can be pickled.

Inodorus Group

This group includes honeydew, crenshaw, and casabas.  Their flesh is either white or green.

Reticulatus Group

The common muskmelon which Americans call the cantaloupe are in this group as well as Persian melons.  They have the familiar nettled rind and firm orange flesh.  As gardeners know, they slip from the vine when ripe.  

If learning of the many subspecies of melons has intrigued you, and you are already planning on planting some new exotic variety, then you will want to check out these seed sources.

Planting Guide

Melons love to bask in the sun and are heat loving so planting in the sunniest spot of the garden is helpful. In cooler climates putting down black or red plastic mulch will warm the soil more to their liking. Hot caps or low tunnels may be necessary in some zones.  I am in Zone 5 and plant the end of May up until mid June.

 Melons need a loose soil and rich in organic matter. Direct sowing in the garden seems to work best. 

 Dig a 1' x 1' hole and mix in a compost or aged manure along with a handful of dry organic fertilizer:  1 part blood meal, 2 parts bone meal, 1/4 part azomite or green sand. Mix the amendments well and pat down.

Plant 3 seeds 3x the width of the seed in each prepared area.

Be sure to leave plenty of room for the vines.  Space 6' apart and alternate plantings between closely placed rows.  Melons also do well in a raised bed with a short trellis nearby to grow on.  

As the plants begin to vine put down a thick layer of mulch to prevent drying out and protect leaves from soil borne disease.  

Water generously especially when fruiting. Drought stressed plants will not be as productive nor as sweet.


The male flowers are the first to appear.  Perhaps it's an ego thing. They appear at the leaf joint on the main stem and on large side shoots.  Female flowers form later on secondary side shoots.  Melons produce many flowers but each vine will probably only mature 3-4 fruits.  Melons abort a large majority of female blossoms.  Gardeners get concerned when they see an egg sized melon shrivel up and die.  This too is normal.  The energy from that fruit is absorbed into the vine.  Remember only 3-4 fruits mature per vine.


Melons benefit from additional fertilizer.  Fertilize with fish emulsion and sea kelp when the true leaves appear, blossoms appear and fruit sets.  A manure tea is also beneficial.

Handle with Care!

The vines are very fragile and do not like rough handling.  If you have to redirect them do so gently.

Disease and Pests

  Prevention the best option.  Do not over crowd plants so the leaves dry out during the day.  Overhead watering is not recommended. Be sure to rotate each year where you plant melons. In between your plantings of melons you can plant dried beans to better utilize space. 

Disease Prevention Spray

I have found it beneficial to spray mature vines periodically with Neem, Serenade, and sea kelp .  Serenade is a bacteria used to prevent or stop colonization of fungus.  Neem is a systemic fungicide and pesticide.  Both are safe for beneficial insects.

Striped and Spotted Cucumber Beetle

As the beetle feeds on your plants it not only damages leaves but can spread bacterial wilt.  Bacterial wilt causes leaves to wilt.  To determine if it is bacterial wilt pull a stem apart.  If it has a sticky white substance inside, it is probably bacterial wilt and the entire plant should be removed.

Row covers can be used to protect plants until the female flowers develop.  Bees and small flies are necessary for pollination so covers need to be removed at that time.

Powdery Mildew 

Appears as white areas on leaves.  The fungus will use some of the vine's sugars to fuel its growth which may result in less sweet melons.  Prune off newly infected leaves.  Neem oil, Serenade,or a homemade mixture of 1 tsp baking soda to 1 qt of water can be used to stop the spread.

Routine Prevention Spray

I have found it helpful to spray periodically with the following combination in a one gallon sprayer:

Neem is both a systemic pesticide and fungicide.  Serenade is a fungicide. Sea Kelp a foliar fertilizer and Kaolin Clay (Surround) a deterrent.


When a muskmelon is ripe is smells ripe and will slip from the vine when you press where the vine connects to the fruit.  The skin between the netting also turns from green to tan or yellow.  The netting becomes very rough.

Honeydew are very smooth when immature.  As the mature they develop what looks like stretch marks and a sticky surface.

Enjoying Your Melons

Be sure that you plant a variety you actually want.  Remember not all melons are the sweet fresh eating type so choose a variety to suit your purpose.

Fresh eating is the best way to enjoy melons.  If I have too many ripen at once I cube and freeze them for smoothies or juicing.