Sunday, April 15, 2012

Column, April 18, 2011

Grow A Salad Garden 

     It’s easy to have healthy gourmet salads right at the kitchen door.  The favor is much better than the bagged lettuce shipped from across the country.  Salad ingredients can be grown in containers or in a garden bed, and the leaves ready to be harvested when you need them. 
     Lettuce is a cool season crop, spring and fall, as are many other salad greens and vegetables.  It is best to make several small sowings instead of one large one.    Keep the soil evenly moist, because dry soil leads to slow growth and bitter flavor.  Below is a guide to salad ingredients, experiment to discover your favorites.
     Looseleaf lettuce form loose heads that mature very quickly.  They are easy to grow.  Leaf color, shape and texture vary with variety.
     Crisphead lettuce is the classic iceberg type, but is slow and difficult to grow.
     Butterhead lettuce, also called bibb, form loose heads with soft texture.
     Romaine lettuce has upright heads that shed water, so they are great when springs are wet.  The hearts are very flavorful.
     Arugula, also known as rocket, has a peppery flavor, and is best eaten with leaves are small.
     Endive/Escarole is a lettuce-like green with a nutty and bitter flavor.  The broadleaf type is known as escarole and the curly as endive.
     Mache, also known as corn salad, the small, dark, tongue-shaped leaves are very tender and mild-flavored.
     Mesclun is a blend of gourmet baby salad greens that can be mild, pungent or bitter, depending on the mixture.
     Spinach is a dark-colored, uniquely flavored green with oval, smooth to crinkly leaves.
     Swiss Chard, closely related to beets, produces greens throughout the growing season.
     Carrots, baby or minis are sweet in salads and adds variety to the salad.
     Cucumbers are cool, mild and refreshing.   They add crunch to salads.  A trellis or cage will be needed for this vining plant.
     Peas, shell, snow, and snap peas are all sweet, crunchy additions.  Sow very early in spring, needs support to hold the vines up.
     Radishes are ready to pull in less than four weeks and add a crisp, zesty bite to the salad.  Varieties differ in size, shape, and color.  Leaves may be added as well.
     Scallions, also called green onions, are a perennial, and is a wonderful addition to the salad.  Chives may be used instead, taste is milder.
     Turnips, slice or shred the sweet tender bulbs at 1-2 inches in diameter.  The leaves may be used as well.

Colmnn, April 11, 2012

A favorite from my garden.
Bearded Iris

     These lovely irises are my favorite flower in the spring.  Bearded irises are old-fashioned, cottage garden favorites.  I look forward to their smiling faces, and their rich colors.  Their exceptionally beautiful flowers range in color from white and yellow to blue, violet, purple, and bi-colors. 

     They combine well with peonies, poppies, and roses.  Bearded Irises produce broad fans of wide, flattened leaves and thick, flowering stems from fat, creeping rhizomes.  The unique flowers have three segments, called falls, ringing the outside of each bloom.  The falls are usually reflexed downward and bear a fringed “beard”.  The center of the flower boasts three slender segments called standards. 

     This late spring to early summer bloomers grow to 1-3 feet and spreads 1-2 feet.  Plant bearded iris in evenly moist, average to humus-rich soil in full sun or partial shade.  Set out bareroot irises in late summer or container-grown plants in spring, summer, and fall.  The foliage can be cut back by half after they bloom.  To keep breaded irises looking their best, you should divide plants every 3-5 years.  Discard the old parts of the rhizomes and replant the vigorous sections.  Remove the dead foliage in spring and fall.  Use in formal or informal gardens.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Column, April 3, 2012

     A few things in this world still cannot be brought, and one of them is a good, homegrown tomato.  Nothing seems to fit the kitchen garden better.  Whether your garden is big or small, you should have no trouble raising plenty of rich-tasting tomatoes in a rainbow of colors including red, pink, orange, yellow, striped or even purple.  When choosing tomatoes, it is a good idea to grow different types and varieties.  That way, you can be assured that you will get plenty.  Disease resistance types are a huge plus, because diseases live from year to year in the soil.  While vigorous hybrids usually produce heavy crops, try heirloom types because they taste great and the seeds can be saved.  Also, consider the growth habit.  Tomato varieties labeled “determinate” grow to a certain height and then produce a crop that ripens in a short period.  “Indeterminate” types continue to grow and produce all season long.  Buy tomatoes as transplants, or start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost in your area.  Wait until all frost is past to set out transplants, unless you can provide special protection.  Tomatoes need full sun, fertile soil and an even supply of moisture.  A week before planting, work one to two pounds of 5-10-10 or similar low-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil.  Too much nitrogen will reduce yields.  Remove all the lower leaves, and set plants deeper in the garden than they were growing in the pots.  The buried stem will grow additional roots for a better plant.  Except for the very shortest varieties, tomato stems are not strong enough to hold up the vines and fruit on their own.  Use cages, stakes, or trellises to supports the plants.  Apply thick organic mulch a month after transplanting to retain moisture in the soil and to keep weeds down. 
     When the first fruit clusters form and every three weeks afterward, work ½ tablespoon of 5-10-10 fertilizer in to the soil six inches from the main stem.  Protect young plants from cutworms with cardboard or metal collars.  Handpick tomato hornworms or control them with BT.  Folklore states that planting basil with tomatoes helps repel hornworms. 
     To avoid soil borne diseases, do not plant where tomatoes, or their relatives, have grown in previous two years.  Grow disease resistant cultivars if you suspect your soil harbors diseases such as Fusarium or Verticillium wilt. 
     Harvest tomatoes when they are fully colored but still firm, unless you want “green” tomatoes.  Never chill ripe tomatoes, keep in a warm place to preserve the flavor compounds.  Place tomatoes on old newspaper to catch and juices that might leak out.  Eat or preserve tomatoes quickly after harvesting.  here are numerous ways to preserve tomatoes.  Recipes have been handed down in almost every family.  Tomatoes can be dried, canned, or frozen.  You can make salsa, sauce, juice, jelly, or leave them whole.  Search the internet or your favorite cook book for limitless recipes.