Monday, March 26, 2012

Column, March 28, 2012


Growing Gourmet Herbs

Herbs bring pleasure to the gardener with their interesting forms, fascinating history, folklore, and wide range of fragrances.

Herbs are most often planted in their own separate area in the garden.  You can also grow herbs in containers.  Herbs are a wonderful addition to any garden.  As long as herbs get plenty of sun and fertile, well-drained soil, they will likely thrive with little care. 

 Top Ten Culinary Herbs
Basil
Basil - The most treasured annual herb of summer is a snap to grow as long as the weather is warm.  Wait until all danger of frost is past before setting outdoors.  Pinch out growing tips to encourage branching; remove flower buds to prolong a plant’s life.  There are many types and varieties to choose from.


Chives



Chives - The thin, hollow green leaves offer a delicate onion flavor.  Growing in perennial clumps, they produce leaves from early spring to late fall.  Plants also bear edible mauve flowers in late spring.  Divide clumps every 2-3 years to rejuvenate them.

Cilantro
Cilantro – Their leaves are used in Mexican and Southeast Asian cooking.  Resembling flat-leaf parsley, cilantro leaves are best picked young.  A half-hardy annual grows best in cool weather and quickly goes to seed.  Sow directly into the garden, does not transplant well.  Make successive plants every 3-4 weeks for continuous supply of fresh leaves as long as it’s cool weather.  Allow flowers to mature, and collect edible seeds.

Dill
Dill – This easy annual is as pretty and it is edible.  The ferny plants grow to 3 feet tall, and produce round umbels of yellow flowers.  Sow seeds directly into the garden.  Make successive plants every 3-4 weeks for continuous supply of fresh leaves.  Allow flowers to mature, and collect edible seeds.

Mint
Mint – This vigorous herb comes in many flavors, such as chocolate peppermint, and lemon.  A perennial herb, can be invasive is often grown in pots, makes excellent teas and sauces.  Buy only healthy plants, do not start from seed.  Can be divided every few years, and new pots can be started with the old roots. 


Oregano
Oregano – Used mostly in Italian dishes, this bushy spreading perennial plant comes in many flavors.  It has small edible purple flowers.  Cut plant back almost to the ground in early summer to promote new growth.  Divide and start new plants every few years.

  
Parsley
Parsley – This biennial plant come in two forms, curly and flat.  Curly is mostly used as a garnish, but flat is used in cooking.  Buy transplants or start from seed.  Harvest stems as needed starting with the outermost ones.


Rosemary
Rosemary – Rosemary is a woody, evergreen shrub, either upright or cascading.  Grow in pots and bring them indoors in winter for best success.  May be grown in the garden, but needs protection in winter.  Grow from transplants or rooted cuttings.   Some varieties have edible flowers.
  
Sage

    
Sage – This woody perennial has a better flavor when used fresh rather than dried.  Beautiful stalks of purple flowers are borne in late spring.  The leaves are evergreen in mild winters.  Grow from transplants or propagate new plants from root cuttings.


Thyme

Thyme – Thyme is a perennial that can be started from root cutting, or buy pot grown plants.  There are many flavors available from lemon, caraway, to orange.  Thyme hugs the ground and produces tiny pink, lavender or white flowers in midsummer that are edible.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Forsythia

The of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring.  Their bright yellow flowers are a wonderful welcome after a long and cold winter.

This plant always makes me think of my Granny, she had forsythias growing around her yard.  I used to hide under the long arching stems while enjoying millions of flowers.

After the flowers are gone, bright green leaves appear, right around St. Patrick's Day adding the charm of "green".

My Granny's gone, but not the memories of my visits with her and all her beautiful flowers.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Corn


Tender and succulent, fresh sweet corn is a classic summer treat from the garden.  It’s well worth growing.  Sow after last spring frost.  Corn seed germinates poorly in cold, wet soil and may rot.  Plant 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart in blocks at least four rows wide, rather than in long, single rows, to ensure good wind pollination.  Rows should be 18-24 inches apart.  Thin seedlings to stand 8-12 inches apart’ mulch or cultivate shallowly to avoid damaging roots near the soil surface.  Corn grows rapidly and needs adequate fertility and water.  Apply fish emulsion or compost tea after 1 month and again when the tassels appear.  Water is most critical when corn is in tassel.  Plant successive crops every 10-14 days through midsummer, or until about 90 day before first frost.  Choose an early-maturing cultivar for the last planting.  Modern corn cultivars include some known as “super sweet,” which have been genetically modified to slow the conversion of sugar to starch.  If these cultivars cross-pollinate with other sweet corn cultivars, though, touch kernels result.  Separating corn plots by 25 feet or more is recommended, but not always practicable in home gardens.  Instead, time the plantings to ensure that at least 10 days elapse between pollination periods for the cultivars.  Plant in warm soil to avoid wireworms, which destroy seed.  Late plants, at spring’s end, are less prone to corn earworms.  Rotate corn plantings and shred or bury crop debris to reduce overwintering pests.  Matures in 54-94 frost free days.  Zones 3 and warmer and plant in full sun.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Column, March 21, 2012


Beautiful Lawns
     With daylight savings time, we now have more light to work outside and do that much needed yard work.   Weeds were taking over our lawn as with every spring, so mowing was first priory when the rain stopped.
     This week is a good time to discuss ways to have a good looking lawn.
     If you’re starting with a bare yard, there are several ways to get a plush and healthy lawn.  One, you can purchase seed to spread over tilled soil; second, purchase plugs; and third, lay sod.  You may have to remove existing sod or weeds and work in organic matter for better success. 
     You may have an existing lawn that needs some repairs.  If there’s bare spots, loosen the soil and use one the methods above.
     Your lawn needs regular watering and maintenance.  Installing permanent in-ground sprinklers save time and water, but is costly.  There are less costly sprinklers that attaches to a hose and can be moved around the yard. 
     Your lawn must be weeded and fertilized on a regular basis.  Fertilizers provide the three basic nutrients that grass needs:  nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  Use a good fertilizer at least once a year.  Weeds need to be removed before they go to seed.  If there are only a few weeds, use a garden fork to remove the crown and entire root.  But if there are weeds throughout the yard, spread a weed killer at the same time you fertilize the grass.
    Choosing the correct grass for your yard is the most important decision you’ll make.  If your yard is part shade (with 4-6 hours sun), choose a Centipede, Kentucky Bluegrass, or Fescues type.  For a sunny yard, plant Bermuda, Zoysia, or St. Augustine type will grow well.

Our Favorite, Green Beans
     Everyone loves green beans!  There are many varieties to choose from in bush or pole beans.  Beans like humusy but not excessively fertile soil; pH 6.0-7.5.  Sow seed after frost danger is past.  Seeds sown too early in cold wet soil will rot before germinating.  Sow bush snap beans about 1 inch deep and 3 inches apart in single or double rows.  Keep well weeded, or mulched.  Regular watering will increase yield; thorough watering is critical when beans are in flower.  Bush snap beans bear heavily but only for a few weeks.  To assure steady supply, make several small plantings 3-4 weeks apart, ending 2 months before the first fall frost.  Pole beans need something to grown up, like a trellis.  Sow seeds at the base of the trellis the same as bush beans.  Pole beans yield over a longer period of time, but the care is the same as bush beans.  Mexican bean beetles can be serious pests from midseason onward; early plantings are usually less troubled.  Row covers help exclude these pests.  Stay out of the bean patch when the plants are wet to avoid spreading bean rust.  Beans mature in 42-55 days, depending in the species and cultivar.  Harvest at any size, but before seeds have begun to swell noticeable inside the pod.  Can, freeze, or pickle snap beans, or leave pods on the plant to mature fully.  The beans will dry and use as you would any dried bean.  If the bean is an heirloom, you can replant the seeds the next year.

Pansies

Pansies have happy faces, makes me smile!
Pansies are invaluable for early color in flower beds and borders; use them as fillers or as an edging.  They also are cute in containers.  These short-lived perennials are usually grown as hardy annuals or biennials.  Plants form tidy clumps of oval to narrow, green leaves with rounded teeth.  Flat, five-petaled flowers bloom just above the clumps, mainly in spring but also sometimes in fall.  The 2-5 inch wide flowers bloom in a range of colors, including white, pink, red, orange, yellow, purple, blue, and near black; many have contrasting faces.  Their height is 6-8 inches and spread 8-12 inches.  They require full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil.  For blooms the same year, buy plants in early spring as soon as the garden centers display them.  Plants can be set out 12 weeks before the last spring frost.  Space plants 6-8 inches apart.  To grow pansies as biennials for earlier spring bloom, sow the seed outdoors in a nursery bed in late spring; move plants to the garden in midfall.

Snap Dragons


If you press on each side of the flower at its base,
the flower will "snap" like a dragon.
These tender perennials are usually grown as hardy or half-hardy annuals.  The plants may be low and mound-forming or tall and spiky.  The slender stems carry narrow, bright green leaves and are topped with spikes of tubular flowers that resemble puckered lips.  The 1 ½ inch velvety flowers bloom through summer in nearly every color but true blue; some have two colors in one flower.  Height ranges from 1 foot for dwarf types to 2 feet for intermediate types and up to 4 feet for tall types.  Spread ranges from 8-18 inches.  The best site is full sun to light shade (especially in hot summer areas); average, well-drained soil with added organic matter.  Buy transplants in spring, or start your own by planting seed indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date.  Sow seed on the surface, press it in lightly, and put the pot in a plastic bag until seedlings appear; set out seedlings after the last frost date.  Or sow them directly into prepared garden soil after the last frost date.  Set or thin dwarf-type plants 8 inches apart, intermediates 10 inches part, and tall types 18 inches apart.  Water during dry spells to keep the soil evenly moist.  Pinch or cut off spent flowers spikes, especially early in the season, to promote more flowers.   If you leave a few spikes to set seed near the end of the season, plants may self-sow.  Snapdragons can survive mild winters, especially with protective mulch.  They overwinter as leafy clumps and will start blooming in late spring to early summer in the following year.     Snapdragons are prone to rust, a fungal disease that shows up a brownish spots on leaves.  Some rust-resistant cultivars are available, but even these may show some symptoms.  The best prevention is to grow snapdragons as annuals and pull the plants out of the garden in fall.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spinach


Yes, the greens that made Popeye strong.  Spinach growing in the garden is a welcome sign of spring. It is a source of Vitamin A, rich in iron, calcium and protein. Spinach can be grown as a spring and a fall crop.  Sow seeds as soon as the soil can be prepared in the spring.  Sow 12 to 15 seeds per foot of row. Cover 1/2 inch deep. When the plants are one inch tall, thin to 2 to 4 inches apart, with rows 6 -12 inches apart.   Spinach grows best with ample moisture and a fertile, well-drained soil.   If growth is slow or the plants are light green, side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer.  The plants may be harvested whenever the leaves are large enough to use.  Cut the whole plant or just the outside leaves.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Carrots


Carrots were well known to the ancient Greeks, who used their delicate foliage in corsages and flower decorations.  Sow the first crop in early spring, after severe frost threats are past.  Seed is very small; mix half-and-half with fine sand to help avoid over seeding.  Plant a scant ½ inch deep and firm the seedbed gently with the back of a hoe.  Mark the row well; carrots are slow germinators and may not appear for 3-4 weeks.  Or drop a radish seed every 2 inches into the row with your carrot seeds to help mark it.  The quick-germinating radishes will also help break any soil-crusting that could smother the more delicate carrot seedlings, which look like fine blades of grass.  Keep the soil evenly most until the carrots are up.  Thin to 2-3 inches apart.  For continual supply, plant successive crops every few weeks until 3 months before fall frost.  During their growing period carrots should be weeded carefully.  Do not overwater as a wet soil can cause root rot.  Use row covers to deter carrot rust flies, which lay eggs at the base of carrot plants.  The larvae feed on the roots.  Crops planted after late spring and harvested before late summer often escape damage without protection.  Rotate carrot plantings to avoid bacterial diseases.  Twisted roots indicate inadequate thinning.  Forked or deformed roots usually mean the seed bed was not fine enough.  Hairy roots indicate excessive fertility.  Splitting may occur when heavy rain follows a dry period.  Carrots are ready to eat as soon as they have developed full color.  They may be harvested while they are still young.  Harvest fall crop before the ground freezes. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Column, March 14, 2012

Blueberries
Blueberries are a favorite for many gardeners everywhere.  The plant is attractive year round.  In the spring, small pink flowers cover the bush.  So, in summer arching stems produce sweet, gray-blue fruits.  Then, in autumn the leaves turns red and brightens the landscape.  And finally, in winter the leaves fall off leaving the stems bear to offer structure to a bleak garden.
Two basic types of blueberries:  rabbit eye and high bush.
     The rabbit eye are best suited for the
Southeast, as they are less cold hardy and more tolerant of heat.  These are more vigorous and their fruit is somewhat blacker.
     The high bush are most often grown, and are more widely available.  These plants need a winter chill, and are not tolerant of intense summer heat.
     Blueberry plants thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.  These plants need well-drained soil and a pH level of between 4.2 and 5.2 in order to thrive. 
     Mulch with pine needles or water with a special fertilizer created for acidic plants.
     Most blueberries need a pollinator.  Plant two or more different varieties to ensure a good harvest. 
    The fruit does not become sweet until at least three days after it has reached it mature berry color.  The berry is usually ripe when you touch it and it falls off the stem.
    Store the berries in the refrigerator up to a week.  Blueberries freeze well in the natural state, no cooking required.



Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
For Base:
Butter, for greasing
2 tablespoon sugar
1/8 tablespoon ground cinnamon
9 graham crackers
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, room
temperature
2 eggs
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
For the Base:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
   
Grease the bottom of a 9 by 9-inch baking pan with butter. Then place parchment paper over the top, pressing down at the corners. In a food processor, process the sugar, cinnamon and graham crackers until you have the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse a couple of times to fully incorporate. Pour into the lined baking pan and firmly pat down with the bottom of a glass. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until set.
For the filling:
Add cream cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar to the food processor and pulse until well combined. It should have a smooth consistency. Pour onto the cooked graham cracker base and then sprinkle with blueberries. They will sink slightly but should be half exposed.
Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the center only slightly jiggles. Remove from the oven and cool completely before Refrigerating for at least 3 hours. Once set, remove from pan using the parchment lining and slice into 10 rectangular.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cabbage

Cabbage, A Favorite For Thousands Of Years


     Valued for thousands of years because of its hardiness and storage life, cabbage can be grown almost anywhere.
      Grow as a spring and fall crop in most areas or as winter crop where temperatures rarely drop below freezing.  Avoid plantings that will mature in hot, dry weather.  Start spring crops in a cool place indoors 6-8 before last spring frost and set out 4 weeks before the last frost.  Give seedlings plenty of light and withhold fertilizer to discourage spindly growth.  Set plants 12-18 inches apart, depending on expected head size.   In cool-summer areas, you can plant successive crops every month, ending with a storage-type cabbage about 2 months before fall frost.  Summer plantings may fail in warmer climates.  Heavy mulch will help retain moisture and keep the soil cool.  Cabbage prefers rich soil; add compost or rotted manure before planting and apply fish emulsion or compost tea a month after planting.   Use row covers or BT to control cabbageworms.  Aphids are a sign of heat or water stress; hose them off with a strong water spray.  Rotate cabbage-family plantings to avoid soil borne diseases.  Matures 60-110 days, so harvest head when formed, but leave lower leaves, small cabbages will form on the stem, providing a second harvest.  Cabbage plants are available in different colors to make your garden beautiful!