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Chard is the bouquet of the Garden!  Whether it is all green, a white stemmed Fordhook Giant, or Bright Lights/Neon from white to neon pink, bright oranges and reds, brilliant yellow, it is glorious!  And it’s not just another pretty face, it’s a prodigious producer, Cut-&-Come-Again, and again, and again!  In our SoCal clime, it acts as a perennial, sometimes living for several venerable years!  Low calorie, it is packed with vitamins K, A, C, E, and B6.  Chard is also very good source of copper, calcium, phosphorus, and a good source of thiamin, zinc, niacin, folate and selenium!

Chard is a top producer per square foot!  It is a fast prolific crop maturing in only 55 days!  It tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.  But it likes a rich sandy loam soil – well manured and composted with worm castings added.  It likes lots of consistent water, full sun, and plenty of space!  A healthy chard, will take a 2 to 3’ footprint, more if it is a Fordhook Giant!  At 28” tall, it makes a shadow, so plant accordingly!  Some varieties, like Fordhook, have crumpled leaves, lots of leaf per space, like curly leaf kale, lots of return per area used.  Others have a flatter leaf.  Rhubarb chard has a narrower midrib.

Chard seeds are actually a cluster of seeds (like beets) and will produce more than one plant, so thinning and/or micro greens is part of the story!  Spacing will determine the size of your plants.  Too crowded, shading each other, they will be smaller.  With full space, they will produce to feed an army!  If you are harvesting baby chard leaves on a regular basis, space them 2″-4″ apart, or 8″-10″ if you plan to harvest less often.  Generally, row planting chard is not your best choice because of leafminers.  See below….  Plant them here and there; interplant with stinky herbs!  Sow chard seeds ½” deep; germination will take 5-16 days.

Leafminers are the bane of chard, spinach and beets.  Plant so your neighboring plants leaves don’t touch each other.  This is NOT a plant to row crop.   Leafminers flies just lay eggs from one plant to the next.  Separate your plants into different areas, biodiversely; interplant with herbs.  They are so pretty I put them where they can be seen the most!  You know you have leafminers when you see their trails or brown patches on the leaves as the miners burrow between the leaf’s layers.  Remove those sections and badly infested leaves immediately.  Keep your chard harvested and well watered to keep it growing and producing fast, sometimes outgrowing the leafminers.  Give it plenty of worm castings both in the surrounding soil and on the surface.  Cover the surface with a thin layer of straw to keep the castings moist.  Some say soft fast growth is perfect habitat for the miners, but chard is meant to be a fast grower with plenty of water to keep it sweet!  So if you can’t eat it all, find a friend or two who would appreciate some and share your bounty!  Or remove plants until you have what you can keep up with.  Plant something else delicious in your new free space!

Details from U of Illinois Extension:  Spinach and Swiss chard leafminer flies are 1/2 inch long and gray with black bristles. This leaf miner lay eggs on the underside of the leaves side by side singly or in batches up to five.  One larva may feed on more than one leaf.  After feeding for about two weeks, the larvae drop from the leaves onto the ground where it pupates and overwinters in the soil as pupae. In spring, they appear from mid April to May and they cause serious damage compared to the other generations that appear later.  [The life cycle is only 2 weeks long, and they can have five to ten generations per year!  That’s why you immediately want to remove infected parts of your plant, to stop the cycle!]   Cornell Cooperative Extension

Slugs & snails are chard’s other not best friends.  Irregular holes in the leaves, that’s the clue.  Remove by hand, checking the undersides of leaves and down in the center area where new leaves are coming.  I chuck ’em where our crows gourmet on them.  Or use Sluggo or the cheaper store brand of the same stuff.

Harvest chard quickly, rinse, pack loosely, get it into the fridge.  Do not store with fruits, like apples, and vegetables that produce ethylene gas.

Let your most wonderful chard go to seed!  It will likely get as tall as you are!  Let the flowering clusters turn brown and hand harvest your anticipated number of seeds you would like, plus some extras in case, and some for giveaway or trade!  The seeds are viable for 4 to 5 years if you keep them cool and dry.

Chard is young-leaf tender in salads, mature-leaf tasty steamed and in stews, sautéed, and in stir fries.  Some people eat the leaf midrib, others cut it out, use it like celery, stuff and serve.  And there’s always chard lasagna….

6-Large Leaf Chard Lasagna 

Oil your baking pan
Lay in flat uncooked lasagna noodles to fit, cover bottom
Remove stems, lay in 3 unchopped chard leaves, more if your pan is deep enough
Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil leaves Sprinkle with chopped onion, garlic bits
Spread with flavorful cheese of your choice
Spread with zesty tomato/pizza sauce of your choice
Repeat.  Pile it high because the chard wilts down
Top with onion slices, tomato slices, or whatever pleases you
Sprinkle with Parmesan

Bake at 375 for 45 mins
Let cool for 20 mins, EAT!

If you don’t eat it all, freeze serving sizes

Instead of chard, you can use spinach, fine chopped kale, strips or slices of zucchini or eggplant!

Have a tasty day!

Next week, Garden Tools Specially for Women!

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July is not so much a planting month as water, sidedressing, harvest, and making compost – soil prep for September & October fall plantings! Get seeds!
August is keeping your soil water absorbent, sidedressing, harvesting, plant a last round of summer favorites, start cool-season seedlings, time to preserve your abundance for winter eating, to take stock and make notes for next year’s summer planting!
September is exciting because it is the first month to plant fall veggies! Do your final harvesting, preserving, clean up, chop and compost, and plant on Labor Day weekend!
October is considered by many to be the best planting month of the year!! Time to take up strawberry daughters (runners) for November planting, clean up to break pest and disease cycles, plant your winter veggies, plant more veggies if you started in September!

Tomato-Hot Juicy July!

Plant another round of your summer favs if you want, but keep in mind that Sep/Oct are the best fall planting months, so check those dates to maturity! The sooner you start your winter plants, the faster start they have, the sooner you have winter veggies. Things get slower as it gets cooler. And, heat lovers started now will have a shorter harvest period. Just saying.
Watering  Keep your veggies well watered, daily on extra hot days. Seedlings may need water 2 to 3 times a day! Keep strawberries moist or they will stop producing. It tomatoes dry out, they drop their blossoms. Water short rooted plants, beans, lettuces, cukes, more frequently. They like lots of water!
Mulch short rooted plants, beans, lettuces and strawberries, and deeper rooted chard, to keep them cool and moist. More about summer mulching.
Feeding  Get out your fish emulsion, get some manures, and feed your plants! Foliar feed with compost, manure, worm casting tea. Epsom salts your peppers. Seabird guano (NOT bat guano) keeps plants flowering and producing!  Blood meal is a quick Nitrogen fix for yellowing leaves.
Prep your fall raised beds! Start making compost for fall planting. Chop into small pieces for faster decomposition.
Install gopher wire barriers in your new beds. Incorporate manures and already-made compost into your soil.
Get the best varieties of seeds for Sep/Oct planting!
Let strawberry runners grow now.
Harvest!
Do keep up so your plants keep producing.  What you can’t eat or preserve, give away!  It will be so appreciated!

I’m passing this along from a Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, Santa Barbara Organic Garden Club post:

This article is by Robyn Francis, one of Australia’s top permaculturists.  She’s also a pioneer in rethinking international aid.

“While mental health experts warn about depression as a global epidemic, other researchers are discovering ways we trigger our natural  production of happy chemicals that keep depression at bay, with surprising results. All you need to do is get your fingers dirty and harvest your own food.  “In recent years I’ve come across two completely independent bits of research that identified key environmental triggers for two important chemicals that boost our immune system and keep us happy – serotonin and dopamine.  What fascinated me as a permaculturist and gardener were that the environmental triggers happen in the garden when you handle the soil and harvest your crops…”

Smile and be wild!
Cerena

Next week, Composting Made EASY! 

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From the LA Examiner.com Pasta with fried zucchini, teardrop tomatoes and walnut pesto!

Four of the highest yield summer plants per square foot are indeterminate tomatoes, pole beans, zucchinis, and chard!  Three of these crops can be grown up, on trellises, in cages, so your land need is small.  Chard is prolific, cut and come again all year long!

Tomatoes are classically grown UP!  They have their own little support systems, tomato cages!  Some people trellis them, grow them against the fence, espalier them, even grow them upside down!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we have two foot diameter cages we build out of two remesh panels – if you are local, drop by to see them on the job!  

We use those same structures for pole beans!  Pole beans love growing on trellises, any kind!  Those simple tripods tied at the top work fine.  Or let them shinny up your sunflower Jack-in-the-Beanstalk style!  I feed them across my remesh panel horizontally so they remain at harvest height!

For zuchs, the easiest thing is to grab the largest strongest tomato cage you have and feed the zuch leaves up though it as your zuch grows! Let some of the outmost leaves stick out so the plant is more open for easier harvesting in the center, air flows to allow cooler conditions to prevent mildews. Cut the bottommost leaves off as the plant gets taller and well foliated, plant other plants underneath! As your zuch vines more, put in another cage, or two, right next to the first one. Let your vine grow right over the top of them, above the other plants already growing there. Put in as many cages as you need as your vine grows.  This is one time when it really doesn’t pay to let your zuchs get huge on the vine, break the plant from their weight, fall on plants below!  Harvest small and salad tender.  If you see one coming, don’t neglect to check on it in a maximum of 2 days.  In prime conditions they are FAST growers!  

If you are growing butternuts/winter squash, or gourds, pop in a well staked sturdy trellis – simplest is remesh 4′ X 7′ panels from Home Depot or OSH, or an arbor. Remesh can be bent whimsically or cut to fit a spot perfectly, or green wire tied together to make cage sizes that suit your needs. Tie your vine, 10′ for squash, 25′ for gourds, to the trellis, or to a southwest facing fence so your squash get plenty of heat and light. Use that flat green garden tie that expands with your plant as your plant grows.  Heavy fruits will need to be supported. Use cloth twine, net veggie bags ie onion bags, old panty hose, old sheets, towels, colorful cloth scraps, parts of old clothes. Have fun with it! 

That said, another ‘vertical’ trick, that doesn’t require tying, is to put up an upside down ‘U’ shaped device. Take one of those remesh panels, or a trellis and lay it over the top of sawhorses or any way you can devise, cinder blocks staked with rebar, whatever you have around. Be sure to support anyplace that needs it so the structure won’t sag. Plant your plants, cucumbers, melons, beans, outside the ends of your ‘arbor’; let them grow up and over. Your fruits will be supported by the remesh or trellis! Don’t make your structure too wide, and make it high enough – you want easy access to tend and harvest other plants that you will grow underneath, like summer lettuces that need a little shade!  Or it can be a kid play place and they will harvest the beans for you! 

Trellises?! Buying them readymade is time saving. Some gardeners would never dream of buying one. They build their own! Some make the simplest, three poles tied together at the top. Others go into fastidious detail and artistic ritual, creating works of beauty! To them, gardening wouldn’t BE gardening without doing that. 

Blessings on your way.  Up you go!

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Strawberry!

It’s Mid October, just the right time, so I am posting this reminder!

Strawberry Runners!  Mid Oct cut off runners, gently dig up if they have rooted, shake the soil off.  Clip all but two or three leaves off, tie ‘em together in loose bunches. Plastic bag them and put in the back of your fridge for 20 days.  Plant them Nov 5 to 10! 

Prechilling your plants makes them think they had a cold winter.  When days get longer and warmer, they will produce fruit, not as much vegetative growth.  You can then either keep your plants that produced this year, or remove and compost them, start fresh with new plants!  Online you will read to pluck the flowers from first year plants, letting them get well established, then getting a great 2nd year crop.  Commercial growers plant new plants every year and harvest those first year plants. 

Can you plant strawberries from seed?  Sure!  When I eat strawberries at the garden, I leave a little flesh on my strawberry tops, toss them into a dampish spot in the garden.  When the birds or bugs have gotten to one too much for me to eat, or I missed it under leaves, and it is too past its prime, I push back the soil right at the surface, pop the strawberry in, leaving the top of it just barely covered.  Just like planting tiny lettuce seeds, just barely covered.  The decaying fruit is a perfect medium for growth!   Here and there, later on, I find new plants starting that didn’t come from runners!  The more deliberate way of doing this might be to take a package of strawberries you didn’t eat in time, slice ’em, if they are still sliceable, and plant them. 

Or, just buy a pack of seeds at the nursery and go for it, September and April being the best times of year to plant them!  First, put them in the fridge or freezer for 2 weeks.  This will improve the percentage of seeds that will germinate, when you plant them. Freezing stimulates the natural process of the seed going through the winter months and will help jump start the strawberry seeds when you plant them.  Since the seeds are tiny, and sprouts will be very tiny, be sure to mark off that area so you will water very gently there, with your sprinkler can, so you don’t wash them away.  No flooding, ok?  Just keep them moist.

How many seeds are on the average strawberry?  200!  Save your own!  J Smith says:  ‘Looking at a strawberry, you can see on average about 200 “seeds” per strawberry, which sit in its skin around the outside. To a botanist, however, these are not seeds but tiny individual fruits. Still, the strawberry is not considered to be a true berry because it does not have its seeds on the inside, like other berries do.’

Transplants are easier and more sure; seeds are less expensive.  Either way, happy eating – strawberries are low in calories, high in Vitamin C!

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