Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Growing Tayberries

 




I have been trying a varieties of hybrid, less familiar berries in my garden.  I like berries because they bloom later and therefore are less prone to freeze, easy to care for being less prone to pests and disease than fruit trees, and are delicious fresh eaten or made into a variety of preserves.

Tayberries are a berry hybrid.  It is a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry with the sweetness and juiciness of both these berries. Tayberries are much easier to contain than raspberries or blackberries but do have spines.



Growing:

Tayberries originate from Scotland and are easy to grow.  They have few pests and diseases.  They flower late in the season ensuring your crop is not damaged by frosts, and ripen earlier than most other berries.

Plant as bare root stock in early spring.  Mix compost into the planting hole.  Every year in early spring, cut down to the ground canes that bore fruit,  fertilize with a dry organic fertilizer and spread a fresh layer of mulch around the bushes each spring. An occasional drink of fish emulsion and kelp keeps them happy.

Tayberries are grown like raspberries.  Each spring new canes are produced which will produce fruit the following season.  After fruiting, the canes can be cut down to the ground and the new seasons growth left to produce the following year.

Tayberries need support.  I use t posts with hog fencing.  I try to tie the canes in a fan shape.  



Harvesting:

Allow bayberries to fully ripen to a deep reddish purple.  They will be sweet and delicious when fully ripe and wonderful eaten fresh.  They also would make delicious jams and freeze well. I have not found them to be as productive as raspberries or blackberries but I'm hoping the harvests improve each year.



Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Harvesting & Drying Herbs

 

Cinnamon Basil

Herbs are one of the easiest plants to grow, harvest, and preserve.  They are beautiful mixed among flowers and vegetables and have both culinary and medicinal uses. An added bonus is they are virtually pest free.  Today I'm am freeze drying basil, cinnamon basil, thyme, and peppermint. To learn how to grow herbs and additional ways to preserve herbs check out these posts:

A Culinary Herb Garden: Herbs to Grow from Seed

A Culinary Herb Garden: Herbs Grown Best from Transplants



Harvesting Herbs:

The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning when the oils are highest in concentration.  Start harvesting basil when the flower stalks just begin to appear.  You can cut down the plant by 1/2 or 1/3 for harvesting and the regrowth and side shoots will give you future harvests.

Thyme and peppermint can be harvested throughout the season.  Harvest before flowers form. Both thyme and peppermint are perennials that will regrow the following year.  All mints are invasive so its best to plant them in pots.

Basil


Drying Herbs

So now that we harvested our herbs, lets preserve these herbs.  There are numerous ways to preserve herbs.  Some can be frozen in oil, used to flavor oils and vinegars, but most people are more familiar with using dried herbs. With the cost of herbs so high, it is very economical to grow and dry your own.


Today I am freeze drying my herbs.  Freeze dried herbs retain more of the original color and are used more like fresh herbs.  You can also use a dehydrator to dry your herbs.

1.  Wash herbs immediately after picking and pat dry with a paper towel.

2.  For large leafed herbs like basil I cut off the individual leaves.  I find cutting with scissors is the fastest method.



3.  For small leaved herbs like oregano, marjoram, and thyme I dry the entire stem and then after drying you can run your finger down each stem and remove just the leaves.

Thyme and Peppermint


4.  Place the leaves on dehydrator trays or freeze dry tray.

5  Immediately place in the freeze dryer.  I do not pre-freeze herbs when freeze drying.

6.  For a dehydrator set the temperature for 110 F and process until brittle.

Freeze Dried Basil
Storing Herbs:

Herbs like a cool, dark, and dry place.  Herbs can be placed in mylar bags with an oxygen absorber for longer storage.  

For those herbs you intend to use throughout the year, find an airtight jar to store them.  You can use small canning jars or cute decorative jars with a seal.



You can crush the herbs in a ziplock bag, but I prefer to use my food processor.  Use the chopping blade and chop until fine.  The smell of the crushed herbs is amazing!  Be sure to wash and throughly dry the the processor before doing a different herb. 





Wednesday, June 22, 2022

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.

Pollination:

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

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.

Harvesting

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 11, 2022

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.  







History
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.


Flowering

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.


Fertilizing

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.











Harvesting

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.