Vegetable Gardening

Writing a vegetable gardening book is like growing a biennial plant

Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening bookIt’s taken two years to see what my Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening book will look like. It’ll be another five months before I can hold it in my hands.

But pre-ordering has already begun.

Just like a biennial plant, this gardening book has taken its time to put down roots and start to grow. Biennial plants typically take two years from seed to flower.

It’s like planting hollyhocks one year, seeing the rosette of green leaves the next season, and then having to wait another year to see the colors of the flowers in bloom.

The idea for Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening sprouted with me about four years ago. After doing the research, I found the most current books about growing perfect produce for exhibiting in vegetable contests were written about 100 years ago.

As the idea took shape, I decided I needed to grow and show some of my own garden-grown produce. That meant planting in spring and waiting to see what would be ready in late summer to take to the fair.

Win Big with Ugly Fruits and Vegetables

weird tomatoWhat’s the oddest fruit or vegetable you’ve found in your garden?

I’ve found many crazy-looking edibles in my garden, but the tomato I named “Casper the Friendly Cyclops” is the most memorable.

This misshapen, but smiling, tomato could be a winner in the WesternGardeners.com annual Weird Veggie and Funny Fruit photo contest.

Every year gardeners send in images of the kookiest produce they pull from their gardens.

The vegetables are certainly entertaining and it’s always fun to guess what went wrong to cause those weird-looking shapes. Some environmental problem is the most common reason behind these oddballs.

In the case of Casper, the weather was exceptionally cold when the tomato plant was starting to set fruit. That’s what caused all those odd shapes on the blossom end of the tomato.

When carrots grow in rocky soil, their roots can form into strange configurations.

How to plant peppers in your vegetable garden

pepper assortmentI’ve never met a pepper I didn’t like. Hot, sweet, fried or dried, I’m crazy about them all. That’s why I plant at least a dozen different pepper varieties in my garden every season.

There will always be several jalapeno plants, but each year I enjoy adding new-to-me varieties. I’ve been known to pick a pepper plant just so I could grow enough chiles to prepare a single recipe. ‘Holy Mole’!

I’m drawn to peppers because they’re versatile in the kitchen and grow in so many different sizes, shapes and colors. There are baby bell peppers, slender green Thai chiles, long red paprika peppers and even black edible ornamentals.

Then, of course, there’s the thrill of the unknown when taking that first tantalizing bite.

Has a pepper ever made you cry or cause steam to vent from your ears? That painful burning sensation is nature’s way of letting you know you’ve had too much capsaicin. Capsaicin is the flavorless, tasteless alkaloid compound that stimulates the pain receptors in your mouth.

Improve your Small-Space Vegetable Gardening with this Special Summer Discount

tomato basketAt my house, summer gardening dreams are all about growing a bountiful vegetable garden — one filled with a variety of ripe and juicy heirloom tomatoes.

All of these tomatoes, from the smoky Black Krims to the small yellow pear tomatoes, grew in my small-space vegetable garden.

Some grew in the postage-stamp sized 6 x 8 vegetable bed, but most were harvested from my patio container garden.

After years of experimenting with growing vegetables in containers, I’ve learned what works best.

I’ve also learned that gardeners can grow just about any fruit, vegetable and herb in a small-space garden.

All of those tips and tricks for growing vegetables in small spaces are packed into my Craftsy online gardening class. In seven video sessions, I share all of my gardening secrets.

To celebrate summer, I’m offering my class at a special discount. Just follow this link to sign up now and you’ll save $20 on Vegetable Gardening: Innovative Small Space Solutions!

Plant Spinach in July for a Fall Harvest

spinach in containerHere’s a little known gardening fact: If not for a misplaced decimal point, Popeye the Sailor Man might have gained his incredible strength from eating kale instead of spinach.

The comic book hero helped build spinach’s reputation as a power-house vegetable because of a chemist’s simple mistake.

Instead of recording spinach with 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, he wrote 35 milligrams. With that much iron, it’s no wonder Popeye sprouted instant biceps whenever he squeezed opened a can of spinach.

Even with the decimal in the right spot, spinach is still considered one of the healthiest superfoods around. These good-for-you greens are rich in vitamins A and C, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium and, of course, iron.

Spinach is an easy-to-grow cool-season vegetable that belongs to the Goosefoot family with beets and chard.

One of the other great things about spinach is that it grows as well in fall as it does in spring. So get ready to plant your spinach in mid-July.

Companion Gardening Expands Options for Small-Space Vegetable Gardens

companion plantingThere are just some things in life that make ideal combinations.

It’s peanut butter and jelly for lunch; cookies and milk for dessert.

When it comes to the garden, there’s tomatoes and basil; radishes and spinach.

These combinations of vegetables and herbs make perfect partners when grown together in the garden, especially if you’re gardening in a small space.

Basil makes the tomatoes tastier and radishes attract destructive leafminers away from the spinach. These botanical buddies are two examples of how plants team together to help each other.

Companion planting is the art and science of arranging combinations of two or more plants to benefit one another. Planting certain crops together saves garden space, controls pests and encourages healthy gardens.

Native Americans practiced companion planting for centuries by growing corn, beans and squash together. These vegetables are called the Three Sisters because they complement each other when planted in the same hill.

Defining Seed and Plant Terms Avoids Confusion

seed packetWhile answering questions after a recent vegetable gardening talk, a beginning gardener asked me to explain some common seed terms found in garden catalogs and on seed packets.

Because there’s a lot of confusion these days about seed and plant terms, I thought I’d share my answers to help you with your seed sorting, too.

Common Seed Terms Defined

GE—Genetically Engineered seed describes the method of incorporating genes directly into an organism. These seeds are not found in nature, but they are genetically engineered in the laboratory. Some examples of genetically engineered crops include corn modified to protect itself from corn borer damage and herbicide-resistant soybeans, canola and other crops. It’s unlikely that home gardeners will see any packets of GE seeds in garden centers or catalogs.

Plant for Pollinators During National Pollinator Week

swallowtail on zinniaHappy National Pollinator Week to you!

It’s time to celebrate all that pollinators do for gardeners by doing all we can for pollinators.

Insect pollinators, like honey bees and butterflies, do much of the important work in our gardens. They fertilize plants by feeding on or walking through flowers, moving pollen from one part of the plant to another.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of plant fertilization depends on pollinators. Without their help we wouldn’t have much in the way of the fine fruits and vegetables we grow in our gardens.

Pollinators need our help to stay healthy and active. Are the bees buzzing, butterflies floating, and hummingbirds darting from flower to flower in your garden? Whether on a tiny balcony, small patio or large backyard garden, you need to encourage activity by planting flowers that provide nectar and pollen all season, from early spring to first frost.

Organic Gardening Tip Protects Cucumber Seedlings

plastic berry boxI hate it when something eats my cucumbers before I do. Especially before they even get the chance to grow into those cool fruits.

Cucumber seedlings are especially attractive to garden pests, but I think I’ve found a simple, organic gardening method to outsmart the hungry critters, like cutworms and birds.

Last season, the trouble cropped up right after planting the seeds.

I’d soak the seeds overnight to soften them a bit for planting, then I’d prepare the garden bed, plant the seeds, and celebrate seeing the first seedlings pop up from the ground.

The next day their heads would be missing, leaving a tiny stalk standing.

My first thought was that cutworms were feasting on the cucumber seedlings, so I tried protecting them with collars, toothpicks, and other homemade guards.

But when these defenses failed, I knew I had other pests, probably birds and squirrels were snacking on the seedlings.

Organic Gardening Tips for Slugs

slug treatmentsBe on the lookout for slugs in your garden.

The rainy weather is sure to bring out these slimy critters. Slugs may look like harmless pinkish-blobs of goo, but they can cause a lot damage in the garden.

These disgusting pests usually appear in my garden after prolonged periods of rainy weather.

It can sometimes be difficult to find slugs because they do their damage overnight and hide out during the daylight hours. You can use a flashlight to go slug hunting at night or look for slugs along plant stems and under leaves in the early morning hours.

You can also search for their clusters of clear, round eggs by looking under rocks.

Slugs will feast on anything from vegetable and flower seedlings to ripe fruit. I’ve even found their telltale chewing damage on ornamental plants. Look for missing leaves or irregularly-shaped holes on the edges or in the middle of leaves.

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