Organic Garden - Spring
The newest garden updates are at the top of each page. These are observations, techniques and ideas that work for us. Follow them through the seasons. ENJOY!
My garden plans are a thing of great beauty. They are organized and well thought out. However, one of my rules for the “plan” is that it is flexible.
There are certain vegetables that we plant each year and I will call these the “basics”.
There are new things that we incorporate each year that I call the “experimental.”
Then, there are impulse ideas that entertain me. I will call these “fun!” The garden plan is mine so I get to boss it, change it around, and add to or delete things from it.
The “basic” plan always includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, green things, cabbages, potatoes, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, onions, red beets melons, and beans. By green things I mean five or six varieties of lettuce, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and spinish. It includes various types of perennial and annual herbs and flowers.
We will rotate most of our vegetables this year. This is good for the plants and for the soil. There are some areas of the garden that will ”rest” out this season. These places have produced well in the past five or six years and yielded a good harvest. I will cover them with mulch and black plastic and give the soil a chance to build again. This makes good sense to me.
My “fun” project will be to expand the herb garden area in the main garden. I have rows of perennial herbs and flowers planted together. The bees love this so I have plenty of great little pollinators for the whole garden. This year will include more perennial herbs and a separate area for new annual herbs and flowers. This is the “fun” part.
SPRING PLANTING - Yukon Gold Potatoes
Yukon Gold is our favorite potato variety so that is the only variety we plant. I have found that the best results in planting are to let the potatoes grow sprouts of about 1 inch long. Then I cut the potato into three or four chunk s that each contains several sprouts. I cut up the potatoes several days before planting. This helps the cut sides to seal over before they are placed into the ground. We found a lot of fat worms in the holes that we dug for the potatoes. That is a very good sign that our soil is rich. Yukon Gold potatoes keep well, and our High Brix Yukon's kept even better than our normal organic ones.
Our potatoes are kept in the root cellar all winter. It is a cool place and Bob brought them up to the kitchen last week. Some will be used to seed this year’s garden. Some will be made into potato soup. I will keep enough of them to last us for our eating potatoes until this year’s crop is ready to be dug. My goal is to go from seed time to harvest on all my plants. The root crops are stored in the root cellar. Other fruits and vegetables are canned or frozen. I make V8 juice out of a mixture of vegetables and grape juice out of our grapes. The juices are all canned.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Now is time to plant and the potatoes were first.
My tomato seeds are all heirloom, organically grown plants. We are taking orders for setouts from local people. By pickup time in the last week in May, they'll be over a foot tall and most will have blossoms and small green tomatoes. The tomato set-outs I'm growing this year are:
MILK AND HONEY FARM HEIRLOOM TOMATO - Every season, I save seeds from my most perfect tomatoes. These are the ones that look beautiful, taste great, and come from strong and healthy plants. I call these Milk and Honey Farm heirlooms. I will grow many of these in our own garden and will plant 300 plants to sell. Stake these plants (90-100)
BRANDYWINE - My favorite tomato is the Brandywine, an Amish heirloom dating back to 1885. I believe it has the best flavor of any tomato in the whole world!! The huge plants require staking and produce extra large yields of 1-2 pound tomatoes. (90-100 days) I will grow Brandywines in our main garden and plant several hundred plants to sell this season.
AMISH PASTE - I make a lot of spaghetti and pizza sauce. A great tomato for this is the Amish Paste. They are good for canning and are not particularly acid. Their average size in my garden is 8 ounces. (74days) I will grow Amish Paste in our main garden and plant several hundred plants to sell this season. Stake these plants.
STUPICE - The Stupice is my earliest tomato. It originated in Czechoslovakia and Germany and can tolerate a cold spring. I often get 80 to 100 very sweet tomatoes on one plant. The fruits are 1 to 2 ounces and great in a lunch box or salad. I will plant Stupice in our main garden and plant several hundred plants to sell this season. Stake these plants. (52 days)
ITALIAN GIANT BEEFSTEAK - Arriving from Italy about 80 years ago, It is huge! The size is impressive and the yield unbelievable. The flavor is the real taste of Italy. I will grow Italian Giant Beefsteak in our main garden and 50 plants to sell this season. Stake these plants. (83-85 days)
CHERRY TOMATOES - Coming from Germany, this grape-like, sweet, little tomato grows in clusters. They produce well into fall and are exceptionally tasty. They will require staking. I will plant several of these cherry tomato plants in our main garden and will have 30 plants to sell this season. (70-74 days)
I have learned a lot, since planting my first tomato plants.
I have learned NOT to plant when the winds are brisk. The wind will whip the tender leaves and dry them out. The tomato will take longer to recover from the planting process. Wait for a calm day to plant.
I have learned NOT to plant tomatoes on a hot, sunny day. The hot sun will cause the plant to wilt. Wait for a cloudy day.
From the time a tomato plant is planted, it will take three weeks to recover from transplant shock. The leaves may wilt and appear droopy. The leaves may also turn colors—gray-purple/ etc. Not to worry. This will pass. After three weeks, the tomato will perk up. It will begin to grow.
To make the transplant easy on my tomato plants, this is what I do.
Before planting, I spray each of my tomato plants with “Sea Rich” from Gardens Alive. I also water the tomato. It will help with transplant stress. Next, I remove all but about four or five of the top leaves. Then I dig a deep hole. The tomato should be planted in the dirt up to what are now the bottom leaves. Fill the hole with water and let it soak in. The next step is to straightened out the roots. Place the tomato gently into the hole and fill up the hole with dirt. I water the tomato plants every other day for about two weeks. After that time period, I water as needed. I will spray with “Sea Rich” once a month during the tomato season.
Tomatoes grow well when planted near peppers and eggplants. They thrive when planted with Basil. I always plant my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants with a lot of basil plants. This companion planting system works well for me. I believe that the flavors of these the plants are enhanced by planting them near each other. I do not spray my plants with insecticides , pesticides or herbisides. All my vegetables are grown organically.
I place all my tomatoes in tomato cages. The cages help support the vines when they are heavy with tomatoes. I keep the bottom leaves trimmed so they do not tough the dirt.
It is easy to grow a great tomato. Try it, you will enjoy the results!
THE PEPPER PATCH
I like peppers. They are flavorful and colorful. They add interest to many of the Indian, Italian, and Thai dishes that I regularly fix in my kitchen. This year, I will plant some of my favorites.
WE like Salsa. No Salsa recipe is complete without the addition of Jalapeno peppers. I will plant Jalapeno peppers. We like them fresh, but I also pickle them. The pickled peppers are used on Pizza all winter long. Next in the pepper patch are six Cayenne red peppers. Besides adding a lot of heat to my dishes, big bunches of Cayenne peppers are hung from the ceiling in the kitchen where they will dry out for winter use. The last of my hot peppers are Thai peppers. These small peppers are so hot, that a few go a long way.
Then we have the “interesting” varieties of pepper. There are Chocolate peppers. These are a rich chocolate color when ripe. They taste like sweet pepper—not chocolate. Then there’s Tennessee Cheese stuffing pepper. These are a medium size, square peppers, and will turn bright red. They are not hot. They are great stuffed with cheese! The yellow Banana yellow peppers are next. Right after the yellow peppers are the Pizza pepper s. They are sweet with a kick—just a touch of hot. My favorite type of sweet green pepper is called the Northstar. The plants produce a lot of large sweet peppers from early in the season to frost. These are good when stuffed with hamburger and rice. My homemade tomato sauce covers the peppers and they are baked in the oven. Even people who do not like peppers, really like them fixed this way.
I plant flowers in my pepper patch. Zinnias, Marigolds, and Cosmos will add color and interest. There is no reason a garden has to be boring, and mine is definitely not!
Soak Those Seeds
I have learned by soaking beets, peas, and bean seeds, that the germination of those soaked seeds is excellent.
Beets can be planted early. I soak my beet seeds overnight and plant them abut 1/2 inch deep. They do well. We use the early beet greens raw in salads. The later, bigger greens can be steamed and used as a side dish. They are good with a little butter, salt and lemon pepper. We enjoy the new beets when they are about as big around as a quarter. I like to pickle some of the early beets and can them.
I soak my pea seeds overnight. This helps break up the hard shell on the pea. They come up much faster this way. We eat the early peas—raw—right off the vine. They are sweet and tender. I put the raw peas in fresh green salads for an added crunch. Bob especially enjoys peas as a vegetable side dish.
This spring, I tried something new. It concerns my Scarlet Runner Beans. I was not sure that the old seeds that had been saved would germinate. The first step was to put them in a pan of water. The seeds that sank are the good ones. The seeds that floated are not and should not be planted. The floated seeds will not germinate. All the seeds that had sunk and been soaked overnight came up right away in my garden. This will save me the chore of replanting. I have done this with my wax beans, green beans, and Jacob’s Cattle beans.
There is enough to do in the spring, without having to replant.
By arranging my garden plants, I can assist them to grow well and repel harmful insects. This year’s plan is simple and easy to do.
BASIL, my favorite kitchen herb, will be planted in alternate rows with my TOMATOES. The basil will inspire the tomatoes to maximum growth and wonderful flavor. It will also repel harmful insects and disease.
BUSH BEANS will be planted with the CUCUMBERS.
BROCCOLI will be planted with DILL.
CABBAGES will be planted with DILL and ONIONS.
EGGLANT and PEPPERS will be planted with BASIL.
POTATOES and ONIONS will be planted together.
KALE will be planted near CABBAGES.
LETTUCE likes ONIONS and I will plant them together.
Companion planting is simple and I believe it really helps my garden grow at its best.
I do a lot of "COMPANION PLANTING" and will plant my flower guards. These include Marigolds and Nasturtiums. Their smell tends to repel the bad bugs, so I plant them in with my vegetables. It is also time to start the Jasmine Nicotinea. There are planted as decoys for the potato bugs. They will be blossoming and working for me by attracting the potato bugs. The bugs like the Nicotinea flowers better than the blossoms on the potato plants.
Companion planting is the process of selecting and planting together certain plants that assist each other to grow well by repelling insects and even other harmful plants. When done properly, companion plants have a better harvest without the use of chemicals.
I like my flower guards to be mature and blooming when the vegetables are set out. This tends to repel the insect invasion before it begins.
Nicotinea needs light to germinate so I simply press them into the potting soil, water, and put them under the lights. They take several weeks to germinate. Marigolds and Nasturtiums are easy to grow and add color to the garden, as well as protecting it.
Nasturtiums are eatable and good on top of a cracker spread with cream cheese. They are a little spicy and fun to serve for a party-especially in Minnesota where people do not like exotic taste treats!
Remember this: Companion planting is the process where plants that encourage each other to grow and plants that keep bad bugs away are planted close together. They are mutually beneficial.
I did a lot of companion planting with herbs and flowers last year and was pleased with the outcome. This year, the process has grown to include vegetables that like to grow next to each other.
As a Companion plant, Basil is unsurpassed. It grows next to my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. All are amazing in their productivity and strength. I have been doing this for years and it really WORKS.
The garden plan includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, all planted in the same area. These plants will be surrounded with several different kinds of Basil. I grew a lot of basil this year-so each vegetable plant will have at least two basil's beside it.
Pole beans like to grow with Swiss Chard-so this year, the Chard surrounds the teepees where the beans will grow. The Russian climbing cucumbers will be planted beside the Pole Beans and chard. They will be good for each other.
Kale and onions do well together. I planted red kale, blue kale, and green kale-and surrounded them with onion sets. Some we will use as green onions and some will be left in the ground to get big.
Brussels Sprouts will be planted with beets and spinach. Cabbages also like beets and spinach and so does Broccoli. They all like nasturtiums around them so they will be planted in the same rows.
As a companion plant, oregano works very well with beans. It acts as a growth enhancer.
My sunflowers will go in the melon patch this year. I am enlarging the melon area and hope to have a lot of them to sell in my "GARDEN MARKET". They were really good last year-so I used the same seed and increased their area. The sunflowers will feed the birds next winter and companion well with melons.
I use Sage as a Companion Plant in my main garden. It benefits cabbages, carrots, strawberries and tomatoes. Do not, however, plant it near onions. An example of this type of planting would be a row of cabbage and a row of sage planted beside each other.
A good companion plant for potatoes is Jasmine tobacco. It helps to decoy the Colorado potato bugs off the potato plants. Jasmine tobacco has pretty pink and or white flowers, smells good, looks good, and is easily grown from seed. I save seed every year and start the plants under gro lights in the basement. The rows are planted in the spring with a Jasmine tobacco plant between each potato.
This year we had some dill voluteers growing among the potatoes. Where the dill is close, the potato bugs are not laying eggs. The smell of the dill must deter them.
Before the Flowers – Apple Blossoms
Before my flowers come up, the apple trees will blossom. The apple blossoms make beautiful bouquets for my kitchen table. They will last several days and help to remind us that spring is almost here. I especially like to put them in my Grandmothers pressed glass vase. They go together, Grandma’s vase and my apple blossom bouquets.
Sarah - Set outs, Worms and Snakes!
A good spring day on the farm is when I can "play in the dirt". The black soil is rich with organic compost and a ton of worms. The baby snakes have hatched, much to Bob’s delight. We welcome them in the garden.
Sarah usually writes the updates, but every once in a while we swap places and she takes the photos and I write the articles. The soil has finally dried out enough to begin tilling. We don't till every year, but this year we are rotating the crops so we till to loosen up the soil that has been under plastic. As you can see, the tiller is a serious 300+ pound, electric-start tiller and does an excellent job. With several passes, I work last year's straw mulch into the soil to depth of 10-12 inches.
I'm using the furrowing attachment to create raised beds. One pass is all it takes, then smooth the tops with a rake and put landscaping plastic down. We then fill in the rows with this year's straw sheep bedding (you can see the pile of uncomposted straw and manure by the back of the garden). Rain collects in the furrows, is held by the straw and slowly feeds into the soil. With the plastic and heavy straw mulch, we do much less watering in the hot months than we would have to without it. By the next season, the straw composts and is ready to work into the soil. The tiller and plastic may be an expensive way to garden, but in terms of efficiency, we can do twice as much picking and half as much weeding.