The 9 Most Productive Vegetables You Can Grow Indoors During Winter

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The 9 Most Productive Vegetables You Can Grow Indoors During Winter

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There’s more than one way to plant a bounteous vegetable crop. It’s possible to have a hearty garden even if you don’t have space in the backyard, even if you don’t have a patio or balcony for containers, and even in the dead of winter.

The approach may be different than planting seeds in the ground, but it isn’t difficult to grow vegetables in the convenience of your toasty, warm home. And, unlike growing vegetables outdoors, you’ll have total control over temperature, water and light – all without bothersome bugs and pesky weeds.

You may, however, need to provide supplemental lighting, especially if you’re growing vegetables indoors during the winter months. If the atmosphere in your home is dry, mist the plants frequently or raise the moisture level with a humidifier.

Vegetables aren’t fussy about containers. Nearly anything will suffice, as long as it has a good drainage hole in the bottom. Use a good quality potting mix. Don’t attempt to use garden soil; it won’t work.

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Starter plants may be difficult to find, but if you plant seeds, the top of the refrigerator is a good place to provide a little extra warmth for germination.

Now that you know the scoop on growing vegetables indoors, here is a list of the best, indoor-friendly veggie plants.

1. Tomatoes do well indoors with plenty of light and warmth, but they need a good-sized container – preferably at least five gallons, even if you grow dwarf or patio varieties. Once the tomatoes bloom, you’ll probably have to help with pollination by giving the plants a gentle shake to release the pollen. Choose indeterminate tomatoes, which will grow and product fruit indefinitely.

2. Eggplant and peppers belong to the same plant family as tomatoes, and their growing conditions are similar. Look for dwarf varieties that take up less valuable growing space.

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3. Carrots generally need deep soil to accommodate the long roots, but you can plant dwarf or round types successfully in pots. Sprinkle the seeds over the surface of moist potting soil, and then clip the tiny seedlings to ½ inch apart soon after they germinate. Once the carrots reach 3 inches, thin them again to a distance of about an inch.

4. Radishes are easy to grow just about anywhere, and growing them indoors is no exception. Like carrots, round or dwarf varieties fit best in containers.

5. Potatoes don’t require a lot of space, but they need large, deep pots because you’ll need to add straw or compost to build up layers over the plants as they grow. You can even grow potatoes in a garbage bag with the top rolled down; then roll up the top as they grow.

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6. Mushrooms are a fun indoor crop. It’s easy to get started with kits, but you can also purchase mushroom spawn and do it yourself. The growing medium depends on the type of mushroom, but you may need to stock up on straw or sawdust. (Or rotten manure if your mushrooms are in a garage).

7. Beets do fine in lower temperatures, but they need plenty of light. Don’t crowd the plants, as beets need space for the roots to develop.

8. Lettuce is one of the few vegetables that you can plant in a small pot if you’re low on space. Like beets, lettuce is a cool season vegetable that doesn’t require a lot of heat.

9. Green onions do great in a sunny window. They don’t require much growing space if you harvest them while they’re small.

What would you add to our list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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3 Edible Fall Weeds That Are Super-Easy To Find (And Well Worth The Effort)

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3 Edible Fall Weeds That Are Super-Easy To Find (And Worth The Effort)

Watercress.

 

Autumn is here and vegetable gardening is winding down for the season, but there are no shortages for people who enjoy foraging for edible weeds. In fact, if you look close enough, you may find many nutrient-rich, flavorful weeds growing in your own back yard.

Edible weeds grow in abundance in most areas, and you may be surprised at how tasty they can be, but there are certain caveats to keep in mind before you toss those edible weeds into your salad bowl.

  • Never eat a wild plant unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe. Many poisonous plants look dangerously similar to familiar, common plants. Although websites and books are a tremendous help, the safest course of action is to check with a native plant expert in your area. Most cities have local native plant societies, and members are usually glad to share their knowledge with newbies.
  • Even if you’ve identified a plant with the help of an expert, it pays to be careful, as experts are human and capable of making mistakes. Begin by sampling a tiny bit of the plant. If you have any type of reaction, think twice about eating more.
  • Never eat plants growing along roadways or other areas where herbicides have been sprayed. Similarly, forage for weeds from clean water sources — never from areas where water runs off from agricultural or industrial areas. Always wash the plant thoroughly.

Now that you know the basics of foraging safely, here are three delicious edible weeds to keep on your radar this autumn.

1. Watercress

Found in every corner of the United States and most areas of Canada nearly any time of year, watercress is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. Look for creeping and/or floating plants in shallow ponds and along creeks. To harvest watercress, twist the plant just above the water level. Don’t worry about picking the underwater part of the plant, which tends to be bitter and tough. Leave it in place so it can continue to grow.

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Watercress leaves consist of three to five small, oval-shaped leaflets, sometimes with a hint of red. Don’t confuse the plant with poisonous water hemlock, which is taller and has pointier leaves, often with a greenish-yellow tinge. Again, confirm your find with an expert.

It doesn’t take long to gather a basket of watercress, which you can use any number of ways. Salads are obvious (and delicious), but watercress also makes good pesto and adds flavor and nutrition when sprinkled on pizza, or added to soups and sandwiches.

2. Wood sorrel

3 Edible Fall Weeds That Are Super-Easy To Find (And Worth The Effort)

Wood sorrel. Image source: Pixabay.com

Nearly all parts of this little woodland plant are edible and ready to harvest from spring through autumn, including the heart-shaped leaves, flowers, seedpods, stems and roots. Also known as wild shamrock, wood sorrel is usually easy to find in shady, wooded areas. Although wood sorrel is easy to mistake for clover, this isn’t a dangerous foraging error because clover isn’t toxic.

Wood sorrel is good in salads, tossed into juice or smoothies or sautéed in a little butter or olive oil. If you’re adventurous, the roots taste a little like garden-variety potatoes. Discard the lower stems, which tend to be stringy and tough.

3. Garlic mustard

3 Edible Fall Weeds That Are Super-Easy To Find (And Worth The Effort)

Garlic mustard. Image source: Pixabay.com

Garlic mustard is an invasive weed that is unwelcome in the garden, but in spite of its annoying qualities, all parts of the plant are edible. While most parts are typically harvested in spring, the gnarled taproots can be used year-round. Garlic mustard is a real pain, so you’ll be doing a favor by removing as much as you can use, and then some.

This plant is easy to identify by its deeply scalloped, fan- or kidney-shaped leaves. If you aren’t sure what to do with the roots, keep in mind that they are very similar in flavor to horseradish, with a distinctive, pungent flavor – not a great surprise as both are members of the mustard family.

To make wild horseradish, begin by trimming the greens and tough, woody parts from the roots. Wash and dry the roots, and then grind them in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Blend the ground roots with a little apple cider vinegar and sea salt. For a change of pace, add a beet root, which imparts a bright color and a sweeter, less bitter flavor.

What are your favorite fall weeds to harvest? Share your advice in the section below:

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The Best Way To Grow Indoor Potatoes Is In A … Garbage Bag?

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The Best Way To Grow Indoor Potatoes Is In A ... Garbage Bag?

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Potatoes are traditional vegetables that pretty much everybody loves. They’re easy to grow, and harvesting spuds is a little like hunting for buried treasure — but a whole lot easier.

While potatoes certainly aren’t your standard house plants, they’re surprisingly easy to grow indoors, and unlike planting in the garden, you get to control the growing conditions. Better yet, you can grow potatoes indoors any time of year, which means fresh potatoes for dinner, even when snow is falling.

By the way, while you can plant potatoes indoors in large buckets or plastic containers, it’s really fun to grow them in plastic garbage bags. Here’s how.

Preparing to Plant

Start with fresh seed potatoes from a reputable garden supply store. Avoid potatoes from the grocery store, which are treated with substances that keep the potatoes from sprouting. If you decide to try planting grocery store potatoes, be sure they’re organic.

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If the potatoes are large, cut them into chunks about the size of a small egg, each with at least two “eyes.” Set cut potatoes aside to dry at room temperature for three or four days.

Place 4 to 6 inches of potting soil in a large garbage bag, and then fold the top of the bag down to just above the surface of the soil.

Planting Seed Potatoes

Plant the seed potatoes on top of the potting soil, with at least one eye facing up. As a general rule, figure about three seed potatoes for every square foot of planting space, then add one more for every 4-inch square.

Cover the seed potatoes with an inch or two of potting soil. No fertilizer is needed if you use fresh, good quality potting soil.

Caring for Potato Plants

The Best Way To Grow Indoor Potatoes Is In A ... Garbage Bag?

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Place the garbage bag where the seed potatoes are exposed to full sunlight (or grow lights).

Water as needed to keep the potting soil barely moist. Don’t water to the point of sogginess, but on the other hand, never let the soil become completely dry.

When the plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, roll up the bag and add just enough soil to cover the entire plant so just the tips of the top leaves are visible. You can also use straw or a mixture of potting soil and straw, which keeps the soil loose and easy to handle.

Continue to roll up the bag and add more potting soil every so often as the plants grow. Be sure the potatoes are never exposed to direct sunlight, which can cause them to turn green. Never eat green potatoes, as they contain solanine, a substance that makes potatoes taste unpleasant and can make you sick if you eat enough.

Harvesting the Potatoes

Stop watering the potatoes when the leaves begin to die back and turn yellow – generally about 10 weeks. The extra time gives the skin time to firm up.

To harvest potatoes, simply reach into the bag and pull them out. Or, take the bag outdoors and dump the contents on the ground, and then pick out the potatoes.

Brush the soil off of the potatoes, and then set them in a dry, sunny spot to dry for a few hours. If it’s too cold, spread them out under a fluorescent light.

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Garlic-Growing Secrets Of Fall Gardeners

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Garlic-Growing Secrets Of Fall Gardeners

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Have you ever thought about planting garlic bulbs during fall? Garlic grown in late autumn tends to be bigger, tastier and just plain better, probably because the roots have all winter to get established before the heat of summer sets in.

Plant garlic two to three weeks after the first frost in autumn, but before winter arrives in earnest. This way, the garlic has time to develop roots – but not shoots — before temperatures get seriously cold. Garlic can tolerate severe cold, but too much top growth can put the plants in jeopardy. On the other hand, if you wait too long, the cloves won’t have time to produce a few healthy roots. If you live in a mild climate, you can wait until the end of the year.

Now that we’ve determined the best planting time, here’s everything you need to know, step by step.

Purchase clean, firm garlic bulbs and plant them. It’s best not to use bulbs from the grocery store, which are treated with substances that prevent sprouting and make them last longer in your refrigerator.

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Prepare a sunny spot in your garden by digging in an inch or two of organic matter such as decomposed manure or compost. Avoid soggy spots; garlic requires well-drained soil.

Garlic-Growing Secrets Of Fall Gardeners

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Break the cloves apart, but leave the papery outer skins intact. Plant good-sized, plump bulbs and discard the tiny ones, or toss them in a pot of soup or pasta sauce.

Plant the garlic cloves upright, with the wide sides down. The cloves should be about 4 inches apart and 2 inches deep.

Work 1 to 2 teaspoons of organic general purpose or high-nitrogen fertilizer into the soil around the garlic. Alternatively, apply blood meal according to label recommendations.

Water well immediately after applying fertilizer.

Once the garlic is planted, you may want to surround the area with stakes or rocks; otherwise, you may forget they’re there.

Mulch the garlic bed with 4 to 6 inches of mulch if you live in a cold climate, or just lightly if winters are mild. Straw works well because it allows the soil to breath, but skip mulch altogether if you live in a rainy climate, as the cloves are likely to rot in soggy soil.

Remove the mulch in early summer when the plants are no longer producing new leaves. Stop watering and let the soil dry for a few weeks. At this point, dry soil won’t hurt the garlic, but the bulbs will keep longer in storage.

Lift the garlic with a garden fork or spade when the tops begin to die back and turn yellow – usually mid-to-late summer. Don’t wait too long, or the papery covering will break down and the garlic won’t keep as long.

When you plant garlic this fall, plant a lot of it. The garlic lovers in your family will thank you.

Have you ever planted garlic during fall? What are your best tips? Share them in the section below:

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How To Get Your Onions To Store ALL WINTER Long

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How To Get Your Onions To Store ALL WINTER Long

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When it comes to growing vegetables, it doesn’t get much easier than onions. Just plant them in the garden, give them a little water, and these distinctive, dependable vegetables are ready to harvest almost before you know it.

Once harvested, onions can last weeks and even months if they’re properly cured and stored, and you can grab one for the kitchen whenever you need it. Here’s how to harvest, cure and store onions.

Harvesting Onions

Onions are ready to harvest when the tops begin to flop over and turn yellow. This means the plant has finished growing and the leaves no longer need to provide energy to the bulb. It isn’t necessary to wait until the tops are completely dry.

Don’t harvest the onions right away, though, unless rain is predicted. Instead, stop watering and give them a week or 10 days to finish maturing. If weather turns damp and rainy, then go ahead and harvest.

The best time to harvest onions is during the morning when weather is dry and sunlight is less intense. Loosen the soil around the plants carefully with a spade or garden fork, and then pull the onions gently from the ground. Lay the onions on top of the soil for a day or two to dry. If the weather is hot, cover them lightly with straw to prevent sunburn. If the soil is wet, put the onions in a protected spot like a patio or garage. Handle the onions with care to avoid cuts and bruises. You even can hang the onions over a fence if you live in a dry climate.

Curing Onions

If you want to store onions, curing is a critical step that allows the onions to form a papery, protective covering. If you plan to use onions soon, don’t bother curing them, as there’s no need. Keep in mind that mild, sweet onions don’t store as long as sharp, pungent onions. If you grow both types, then use the sweet onions first and save the pungent onions for storage. Some popular onions that store well include Copra, Southport Red Globe, Redwing, White Sweet Spanish and Downing Yellow Globe.

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How To Get Your Onions To Store ALL WINTER Long

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To cure the onions, place them in a clean, dry, shady, well-ventilated spot with stems still attached. If you’re short on space and need to cure the onions outdoors, spread the onions in a single layer and cover them with a light sheet to prevent sunburn, and then anchor the rocks in place with rocks. Never cover them with plastic, as lack of air circulation can cause the onions to rot.

Allow the onions to cure for two or three weeks, until the papery skin is tight and crispy and the roots are dry. Turn them every few days so they cure evenly. Set any soft onions aside for immediate use.

Storing Onions

Brush the onions gently with your fingers to remove remaining dirt, and then trim the tops to about an inch with scissors before you store the onions. You can also trim the roots.

Sort through the onions again. If any are bruised, store them in the refrigerator and use them soon. Like apples, one bad onion can ruin the entire batch. Also, do not store onions near potatoes.

Place onions in a wooden crate or a nylon or mesh bag – that is, a dark area — and store them in a cool, dry place where temperatures are kept between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but never freezing.

Check the onions every few weeks and remove any that are turning soft.

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Squash 101: Tricks To Keep Your Harvest Stored For MONTHS

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Squash 101: Tricks To Help Your Harvest Last Months

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Squash is easy to grow, and the rambunctious vines, huge leaves and colorful blooms add beauty to the late summer garden. However, there’s a distinct difference between summer and winter squash.

Unlike zucchini and other types of summer squash that are harvested in summer when the fruit is immature and the rind is tender, winter squash, including acorn, butternut, hubbard, spaghetti, delicata and pumpkin, are ready to pick in fall when the fruit is mature and the rind is hard.

Most types of winter squash store beautifully with proper preparation, and the flavor is enhanced by the concentration of natural sugars in the fruit. However, storage time varies. Hubbard squash stores well and lasts at least five or six months, while buttercup squash and pumpkins maintain quality for two to three months. Spaghetti squash should be used in four or five weeks.

Acorn squash, which are thin-skilled, should be used fairly soon because they last only about a month. They require no curing period; in fact, curing will actually shorten the storage life of acorn squash.

Get Started

Harvesting, curing and storing winter squash is simple. Here’s how:

Pick winter squash when the vines begin to die down in late summer or autumn. The color of the squash should be uniform and the finish dull and no longer shiny. If in doubt, poke the squash with your fingernail. The squash is ready to pick if you can’t puncture the rind.

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Squash 101: Tricks To Help Your Harvest Last Months

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Don’t rush to harvest squash, as immature squash doesn’t store well. However, weather is definitely a factor. Although one or two light frosts won’t damage most types of winter squash, repeated frost or a hard freeze can do serious damage.

Cut squash from the vine with scissors, leaving about an inch of stem on squash; never twist or pull. Leave about an inch of stem on winter squash and 3 to 4 inches of stem intact on pumpkins. (Jack O’Lanterns need a good handle.)

Handle the squash with tender loving care, as any cuts or scrapes can allow pathogens to enter the squash, thus greatly shortening the storage life. If any stems loosen or break, store the squash in the refrigerator and use it soon because it won’t keep.

Place winter squash in a covered porch or other protected, well-ventilated room for 10 days to two weeks. Ideally, squash should be cured at 80 to 80 Fahrenheit to harden the rind and heal any cuts with nighttime temps above 60 degrees. You can leave just-picked winter squash in the garden to dry if weather is dry and temperatures are below 95 degrees.

After curing, brush dirt away gently, and then wipe the squash with a solution of one part water to 10 parts bleach.

Store winter squash in a single layer, not touching each other in a cool, dry, well-ventilated room. Ideal temperatures for storage are between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t store squash near pears, apples or other fruits that emit ethylene gases that decrease the life of the squash.

Check the squash every couple of weeks, and discard or use any that are showing bruises or soft spots.

What advice would you add on storing squash? Share your tips in the section below:

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8 Hardy Vegetables You Can Leave In The Ground During Winter For A Super-Early 2017 Harvest

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8 Hardy Vegetables You Can Leave In The Ground For Winter For An Early 2017 Harvest

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It may seem like not much happens in the garden during September, and that spring is the only acceptable time to plant a crop of vegetables.

And while it’s true that plants don’t grow when winter sets in, there are a surprising number of vegetables you can plant in autumn – and that will be ready for spring. The plants lie dormant during the winter months, spring back to life when temperatures begin to rise in March or April, and are ready to harvest soon thereafter.

Straw or mulch provide good protection for overwintering vegetables in most climates. Some vegetables may need a little protection in the form of row covers or cold frames if you live in a cold climate. One simple way to protect plants is to arrange bales of hay on each side of the rows, and then cover the bales with old windows. You can also use clear plastic anchored with rocks or stakes.

Here’s a list of vegetables appropriate for planting in autumn. Some are old favorites, while others may surprise you.

1. Onions – Plant onions now, in September, and then leave them alone until they’re ready for harvest next summer. Onions grow nearly anywhere, but they may not do well if your garden remains soggy during the winter months. Alternatively, you can always plant onions in raised beds.

8 Hardy Vegetables You Can Leave In The Ground For Winter For An Early 2017 Harvest

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2. Shallots – Fall is a good time to get shallots in the ground, but there’s no hurry. It’s possible to plant this popular culinary vegetable as late as December, depending on where you live.

3. Garlic – Plant garlic cloves in the garden around September and harvest them next summer. Fall is actually the best time to plant garlic, as the cloves need several weeks of cold in order to multiply. Also, garlic planted in autumn tends to be larger and more flavorful.

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4. Spinach – Plant spinach in autumn and harvest the leaves regularly throughout the winter, until next summer. Spinach is a cold-weather crop, and planting after summer heat eliminates the need to worry about bolting.

5. Broad beans – Varieties such as “super aquadulce” or “aquadulce claudia” are good for planting as late as October or early November. As an added benefit, beans work as a cover crop by preventing erosion and nourishing the soil. You may need to stake the plants to keep them upright if winter winds are common.

6. Chard – This nourishing leafy vegetable survives winter in great shape in most climates, and is the first green ready for picking in spring. In fact, chard tolerates temperatures as low as 15 degrees Fahrenheit without protection and cold actually brings out the natural sweetness. But if you have seriously cold winters, you may need to protect chard with row covers or a cold frame.

7. Peas – Select a cold-hardy, early variety like meteor or kelvedon wonder. Plant the rows thickly, a little closer than usual to allow for the few that you’ll probably lose. Peas may be chancy if you live north of USDA zone 5 or south of zone 8.

8. Mache – If you haven’t tried mache, you’re likely to love the mild, nutty flavor of this cold-hardy solid green. Mache survives winters in USDA zone 6 with no protection, but may need a little protection in northern climates.

What would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:

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The Tougher-Than-Nails Cold-Weather Vegetable That Can Survive SNOW

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The Tougher-Than-Nails Cold-Weather Vegetable That Can Survive SNOW

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Kale is a tough, cold-hardy member of the cabbage family, but kale grown in cool, frosty weather is amazingly sweet. If you already harvested a crop of kale you planted during spring (or even if you didn’t!), you can plant a fresh crop in late summer or early autumn. If you live in a warm climate, you can plant kale as late as October.

Although kale tolerates frosty weather, it grows best where temperatures don’t drop into the teens. If this is a possibility, then plant kale in a cold frame, or protect the plants with row covers. Consider planting fast-growing cultivars such as Red Russian or White Russian, cold-hardy varieties ready as soon as 40 days. The plants may stall if days are hot, but the kale will take off and grow like crazy when the temperatures drop.

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Seeds are slow to germinate outdoors when days are still warm, so pick up a few seedlings at your local garden center, or start seeds indoors four to six weeks ahead of planting time.

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Kale isn’t difficult to grow. Here’s a few tips to get started.

  • Although kale prefers at least six hours of sun, the plant will tolerate partial shade, especially in hot climates.
  • Soil for kale should be moist and well-drained but never soggy.
  • Enrich the soil with an inch or two or compost, well-rotted manure or other organic material.
  • Plant the seedlings at about the same depth they’re situated in the nursery container, but definitely no higher than the lowest set of leaves.
  • Allow 12 to 15 inches between each plant and 18 to 24 inches between rows. You can also stagger the plants, which saves space in a small garden
  • Mulch the kale plants lightly when the plants are about 6 inches tall to keep the soil moist and maintain an even soil temperature. Mulch also keeps weeds in check and prevents mud from sticking to the leaves.
  • Provide 1 to 1 ½ inches of water per week, unless it rains.
  • Feed the plants about halfway through the growing season, using a balanced commercial fertilizer, diluted solution of fish emulsion, or manure tea.
  • Control aphids or flea beetles with an insecticidal soap spray. Never spray plants on hot, sunny days, or if you notice bees, ladybugs or other beneficial insects on the plant.
  • Hand-pick larger pests such as cabbage worms, cutworms or cabbage loopers. You can also spray the pests with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a natural, bacterial pesticide that kills pests without harming beneficial insects.
  • Harvest kale after one or two light frosts, as kale needs frosty nights to convert the starches into natural sugar. You can even harvest kale when the plants are covered with snow!
  • Pick leaves around the outer edge of the plant. Leave the terminal bud at the top, center of the plant if you intend to continue harvesting. Be sure to pick kale before the leaves get old and tough. If this happens, toss them on the compost heap.

Kale is a vegetable that gardeners even in the harshest climates enjoy. Get planting!

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8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden (But You Gotta Plant NOW)

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8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden

Crimson clover. Image source: Pixabay.com

There’s no reason why your garden should remain unproductive between fall harvest and spring planting. Planting a cover crop, which isn’t just for big agricultural operations, ensures your garden keeps working hard throughout the offseason.

Plant a cover crop after harvest, about four weeks before the first hard frost, and then till it into the ground in late winter or early spring. The organic matter builds healthier soil, helps smother weeds, loosens compacted soil, helps control diseases, attracts beneficial insects, keeps pests in check and prevents erosion – all for a very reasonable investment of time and money.

Loosen the top 1 to 2 inches of soil, then sow the seeds thickly, much like grass seeds. Rake the seeds into the soil, then tamp lightly so the seeds make good contact with the soil.

Keep in mind that many cover crops can become weedy if they are allowed to set seeds, so plow them under before that occurs, preferably while the plants are still young and easy to work. Don’t worry if it seems that your crop hasn’t been around long enough to be helpful; growing cover crops for a short time provides great benefits.

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Here are a few examples of fast-growing cover crops that work well for small gardens in nearly any climate:

8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden

Buckwheat. Image source: Pixabay.com

1. Buckwheat is great for poor or unproductive soil, or where weeds are a persistent problem. Plant buckwheat any time between late spring and late summer, and then wait five or six weeks before tilling it into the soil. Unfortunately, buckwheat prefers cool, moist conditions and isn’t the best choice for hot, dry climates. Don’t let this plant go to seed, which usually occurs in six to nine weeks.

2. Clover is a terrific source of nitrogen. Many gardeners prefer crimson clover, a robust plant with colorful blooms. However, other types, including yellow blossom clover, sweet clover, white Dutch clover, arrowleaf clover, berseem clover and others all attract beneficial nutrients, fix nitrogen, suppress weeds and attract bees and other beneficial insects. Do your homework and select the clover that works best in your climate.

3. Oilpan radishes have long, fast-growing taproots that power through compacted soil in a couple of months. Plant the radishes in late summer or early fall and the plants will continue to work throughout the winter months, even if they are killed by a hard freeze. Be careful and don’t let the radishes go to seed, as volunteer plants may create big problems in next year’s garden.

4. Winter rye is a good cover crop for dry, sandy, poor soil, and it works well in cold climates. The seeds are quick to germinate and suitable for planting late in the season. One drawback however, is that winter rye grass doesn’t provide a full slate of nutrients, so you may want to combine winter rye with clover, vetch, or other plants from the legume family.

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8 Fast-Growing Cover Crops That Will Transform Your Garden

Hairy vetch. Image source: Pixabay.com

5. Hairy vetch is a versatile, resilient legume that works well even in cold, dry climates and nearly any soil type. Plant hairy vetch in late summer or early autumn and work it into the soil in spring. Alternatively, trim or mow the vetch before it blooms — a few weeks before garden planting time, and then plant your vegetable seeds directly in the mulch. Don’t let hairy vetch bloom, as it can become very weedy.

6. Fava beans are hardy, relatively drought-tolerant legumes that germinate quickly and tolerate most soil types. However, this cool-season crop doesn’t do as well when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so wait until temperatures drop a bit before planting. As an added bonus, fava beans are edible, although removing the pods also reduces the nitrogen available to the soil.

7. Garden peas are a dual-purpose plant that provides all the benefits of legumes. For best results, till garden peas into the soil while they’re flowering. You also can combine garden peas with other cover crops such as winter rye or vetch.

8. Oats don’t provide the rich buffet of nutrients as do other plants, but they are good choices for wet soil. The plants are winterkilled in most climates, but the frozen plant matter provides many benefits, including erosion control and loosening of compacted soil.

What cover crops would you recommend? Share your tips in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

11 Unique, Lightning-Fast Vegetables You Can STILL Plant From Seed

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11 Unique, Lightning-Fast Vegetables You Can STILL Plant From Seed

Arugula. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

By the time August ends, your vegetable garden likely has a number of bare spots. This is a good thing, indeed, and a sign that the bounty of a successful harvest has enriched your dinner table and replenished your cupboards and freezer for the coming months.

Now what? Believe it or not, it isn’t necessary to let those bare patches go unused until spring planting time rolls around. In most climates, it’s possible to grow a second garden by planting another round of vegetable seeds – even in late August and early September.

Many vegetables are even sweeter when the temperatures drop a bit.

This is a good time to try a few new, unique vegetables that you’ve never tried before. Look for varieties with the shortest growing season, or those specifically labeled for late-season growing.

August can be the hottest month in many climates, so while you’re enjoying a good book and a glass of ice cold lemonade, don’t ignore the need to pour on a bit of extra water.

One final tip before selecting seeds for your late garden: Keep insulated fabric or a few sheets of newspaper on hand – just in case.

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Here are a few ideas for planting seeds in late August or early September:

1. Beet greens. These are nutritious, delicious and ready for picking as soon as two to three weeks.

2. Watercress. It has a crispy, pungent, slightly peppery flavor that adds interest to sandwich, salads or pizza. Plant watercress through August and harvest until late autumn.

3. Kale shoots. These are ready very quickly, and you can toss a handful of the tender shoots in smoothies or salads for a blast of vitamins and minerals. Soak the seeds overnight before planting, and then plant them in full sunlight.

4. Pak choi. Plant pak choi in a sunny garden spot by the end of August. The seeds germinate in six to 10 days, and you can harvest baby pak choi leaves as soon as 30 days. Use this flavorful Asian vegetable in salads or stir fries.

11 Unique, Lightning-Fast Vegetables You Can STILL Plant From Seed

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5. Radishes. Fast-growing radishes are tangy, crispy and perfect for planting small patches throughout August and September — four to six weeks before the last frost.

6. Turnips. Small turnips are ready in about 45 days, but turnip greens are perfect for picking much sooner. The crispy greens are even sweeter when nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s, and you can grow turnips until the first hard freeze – maybe even longer with a little protection.

7. Tatsoi. An attractive plant with rosettes of spoon-shaped leaves, tatsoi is ready to harvest in 20 to 25 days, although full-size tatsoi takes a bit longer. This mustard cousin can tolerate light frost, which actually improves the flavor. Plant tatsoi in partial shade, or in full sunlight if the days are cool.

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8. Arugula. This one bolts quickly in hot weather, but if you have a cool, shady spot you can harvest this spicy green vegetable in three to four weeks. Arugula, also known as rocket, tolerates light frost. Cook this fast grower like spinach or add it to salads.

9. Mustard greens. Plant mustard greens four to six weeks ahead of the first expected frost, and start picking the tender little leaves in about a month. Mustard greens prefer full sun and moist, rich soil.

10. Collard greens. These are related to kale, and each is an absolute nutritional powerhouse. Plant collards about 10 weeks before frost and harvest the leaves as soon as they’re big enough to use, or wait and let them develop. This cold-hardy plant can survive temperatures in the upper teens. In mild climates you can harvest collards all winter.

11. Mizuna. Plant mizuna in full sun or partial shade six to 12 weeks before the last frost, and then use the mild-flavored, fern-like leaves in stir fries and salads. A member of the cabbage family, mizuna tolerates a bit of frost.

What would you add to the list? Share your tips in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Stupid Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

10 Quick-Growing Vegetables You Can STILL Plant In August From Seed

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10 Quick-Growing Vegetables You Can STILL Plant In August From Seed

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It’s August, and the window of opportunity has passed for planting tomatoes, peppers and most types of beans. However, if you have an empty space in your garden and you’re itchin’ to fill it, there are several veggies that will do just fine.

Your growing zone does matter, however, and you face a challenge if winter comes early in your area. Read seed packets carefully to determine if you can harvest a crop before Jack Frost makes his first appearance.

Look for quick-maturing varieties with shorter growing seasons. The cultivar name will often give you a clue, and may include words such as “early” or “winter.”

1. Cucumbers have plenty of time to produce an abundance of fruit when planted in August. Look for fast-growing varieties, either bushes or vines.

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2. Kale is a cool weather crop that can be planted now for harvest in fall and winter.

3. Lettuce planted in early- to mid-August provides a delicious fall crop. In late August, plant varieties such as “winter gem” or “arctic king” for harvest in late autumn or early winter. Plant lettuce in a shady location if days are still hot. Mulch plants or protect them with a row cover in the event of cold snaps.

4. Spinach is ready to harvest in about 45 days, but you often can enjoy tender, flavor-rich, baby leaves in less time than that. Harvest the leaves at the base of the plant and the smaller leaves will continue to grow. You can enjoy spinach this way for several weeks, or until the plants are nipped by frost. Although spinach prefers cool temperatures and light shade, it will tolerate sun when daytime temps are cooler.

5. Baby arugula is ready to eat in 21 to 40 days. Toss the tender leaves in salad, sprinkle them lightly with vinaigrette and grated parmesan, or chop a few for your favorite pizza. The flavor is more mild and delicate than mature, full-size arugula.

10 Quick-Growing Vegetables You Can STILL Plant In August From Seed

Radishes. Image source: Pixabay.com

6. Radishes are good eating in about a month, and some types are ready to harvest as soon as three weeks. Look for standard spring radishes like “cherry bomb” or “crimson Giant,” or try winter radishes such as “black Spanish,” or “winter China rose” for a very different flavor experience. You can always add the tiny radish greens to salads.

7. Endive is a frilly salad essential that loves cool weather. Most varieties need at least 45 days, and some may require a couple of months, so check those seed packets.

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8. Beets love cool weather and tend to do well when planted six to eight weeks before the first average frost date in your area. If you’re short on time and cold weather comes early, harvest the beets when they’re as small as an inch in diameter. Keep in mind you can always harvest beet greens even sooner. For a change of pace, try a beet with maroon or blood red leaves, such as “bull’s blood.” The leaves are tender and juicy, and the color adds real zing to your salads.

9. Collards generally take 60 days to gain maturity, but the tender baby greens are ready much sooner. Similarly, mustard greens are ready for salads in about 45 days or less.

10. Turnips may sound like an unlikely success story for August planting, but varieties such as “Tokyo cross” and “market express” are big enough to eat in just 35 to 38 days. If frosty weather looms, grab a few of the tender greens. Turnips may be bitter and less than perfect in hot weather, but cooler temperatures mean sweet, mild turnips.

What would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

8 ‘Magical’ Vegetables You Can Regrow From Scraps (With A Little Help)

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8 ‘Magical’ Vegetables You Can Regrow From Scraps (With A Little Help)

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Vegetables typically get one go-round in the kitchen, and then we toss the carrot tops, sprouted garlic or celery bottoms in the compost bin or garbage can without giving it a second thought. Who would imagine that many kitchen scraps actually have the potential to regrow into usable vegetables?

Most vegetables won’t regrow indefinitely, and they probably won’t grow enough to feed your family for very long. However, re-growing vegetables can save you money and in the meantime, many are attractive, decorative plants that bring a bit of the outdoors into your kitchen. If you’re looking for fun gardening projects to inspire kids, this one is sure to be a hit.

Try these vegetables:

1. Celery, bok choy and romaine lettuce – Slice the bottom from the bunch and put it in a bowl of warm water with the cut side facing up and just the root end submerged. Watch for leaves to emerge from the center as the outer section gradually turns yellow and deteriorates. Once the celery bottom has several healthy leaves, plant it in a container filled with potting mix, with only the leaf tips showing above the soil.

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2. Avocado – This is an old trick that kids love. Unfortunately, the plant isn’t likely to bear fruit unless you’re patient and willing to wait a dozen years or so. In the meantime, enjoy the lush, green plant.

To grow an avocado plant, just use toothpicks to suspend a cleaned seed, wide end facing down, over a glass of water so only the bottom half of the seed is submerged. Place the glass in a warm spot where the avocado is exposed to indirect sunlight. Check the water every day and add more as needed.

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Once the stem grows to about 6 inches, cut it down to about 3 inches. When you notice new leaves, plant the avocado in potting mix with about half the seed above the surface of the soil. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.

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3. Potatoes – Cut potato peels into 2-inch chunks, each with at least two eyes. Set the chunks on the countertop to dry for a day or two, and then plant them in a large, deep container with the eyes facing up. Cover the potato chunks with 4 inches of soil, and then as the plant grows, add an extra 4 inches of soil. The new, tender potatoes will be ready to harvest in a few weeks.

4. Onions – Slice the root end from the onion, along with about a half-inch of the onion. Plant the onion in potting mix, root side down, and water as needed to keep the soil moist. The onion should be ready to harvest in several weeks. At that time, cut off the root end and grow yet another onion.

5. Ginger root – Plant a small chunk of ginger root in potting mix, with the buds facing up. Water as needed to keep the soil moist, and then harvest the entire plant, roots and all, in a few months. Grow ginger root indefinitely by saving a small chunk from the new root.

6. Garlic – If you’ve left a garlic clove a little too long and it’s sprouted, don’t throw it away. Just plant the clove in a pot with the root end facing down. When the clove is well-established and displays new growth, trim the shoots so that energy is concentrated on the clove. You can grow garlic this way indefinitely; just start a new garlic clove from the newly grown bulb.

7. Carrots – Unfortunately, you can’t grow new carrots with carrot tops, but you can use the lacy tops as an attractive garnish. Put the carrot tops in a tray or dish with a little water, cut sides down, and place the dish in bright sunlight. Check the carrot tops daily and replenish the water as needed. Snip off small amounts as often as needed.

8. Cilantro – It’s easy to start this pungent culinary herb by placing a few stems in a jar of water. When the stems root, plant them in a pot. The new plant will be ready to use in a few months.

What advice would you add? What vegetables would you have placed on our list? Share your ideas in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Avoidable Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

11 Clever Ways To Grow Vegetables In A Drought (No. 5 Always Trips Up People)

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11 Clever Ways To Grow Vegetables In A Drought (No. 5 Always Trips Up People)

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Drought is a serious concern for gardeners. As water supplies dwindle across much of the country, we are left wondering how long we can continue to provide a healthy supply of food for ourselves and our families during such difficult conditions.

You can still grow a garden, but the days of free-wheeling water use may be over. Gardening in drought conditions requires careful planning and wise water-usage strategies, such as the following:

1. Create healthy growing conditions. Add plenty of compost or other organic material. Healthy soil retains moisture longer and helps plants build deep roots. You also can use manure, but be sure it’s well composted. Add manure four months ahead of planting time, or wait until the season is over and use the rich stuff to improve soil quality for the coming year.

2. Mulch, mulch, and still more mulch. Gardening pros estimate that three to four inches of mulch can reduce watering requirements by half. A layer of mulch, such as chopped bark, dried leaves, straw or pine needles, keeps the soil moist and helps keeps weeds in check. You can also use dry grass clippings applied in thin layers, but never use grass clippings in your vegetable garden if your lawn has been treated with herbicides or pesticides during the last month.

3. Plant a cover crop in fall. “Green manure” such as alfalfa, vetch or clover improves water retention, adds nutrients to the soil, prevents erosion and discourages weeds from coming through. Till the dead plant material into the soil in early spring. (Be sure to mow if the cover crops flower before they are killed by frost; otherwise you’ll be faced with a weedy challenge in a few short months.)

4. Plant vegetables close together to prevent evaporation. By planting closely, you can also take advantage of companion planting to enhance growth and control pests.

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Similarly, plant in blocks instead of rows, with plants grouped according to their water requirements. Some plants are relatively drought-tolerant, while others, including all the cruciferous vegetables, tend to be notorious water hogs.

5. Go easy on the fertilizer. While fertilized plants are lush and green, they require considerably more water. Additionally, fertilizing in drought conditions always presents a risk of burning the roots.

6. Weed your vegetable garden regularly. Pull or hoe when the plants are small. Weeds are greedy plants that draw water and nutrients from your vegetables.

11 Clever Ways To Grow Vegetables In A Drought (No. 5 Always Trips Up People)

Image source: Pixabay.com

7. Plant your garden in a sheltered area so winds can’t dry the soil as quickly. Take advantage of a spot next to a building, fence or adjacent to tall plants. For example, sunflowers serve as attractive natural windbreaks, and once established, require very little water.

8. Consider a smaller garden. Plant only what you can use.

9. Create a no-till garden and avoid cultivating the soil whenever possible, as tilling breaks down soil structure, disturbs beneficial microorganisms that process organic matter, and affects the soil’s capability to retain moisture for longer periods of time. (Read about alternatives here.)

10. Install a rain barrel to take advantage of any rainfall. Many gardeners also use a rain barrel to store “grey” water from household use.

11. Plant drought-tolerant vegetables. If you aren’t sure about the best choices, ask at a reputable greenhouse or call your local Cooperative Extension office. One tip: Consider heirloom plants originating from Mediterranean or desert climates, which tend to be naturally more drought-tolerant.

Seamazing: The Low-Cost Way To Re-mineralize Your Soil

Finally follow these tips for watering in drought conditions:

  • Water in the morning; moisture evaporates rapidly when temperatures are higher later in the day. A timer or automatic shut-off is a tremendous benefit if you work or need to be away from home for long periods of time.
  • Swap your inefficient hose and sprinkler for a drip irrigation system or a good quality soaker hose that places water exactly where it’s needed – at the roots. Place the hose under mulch if you’re concerned about the appearance.
  • If you aren’t sure how much water to provide, use a soil probe to determine how long it takes to soak the top six inches of soil. Another tip: A handful of soil should stick together when squeezed. If it crumbles, it’s time to water.
  • Avoid overwatering; most vegetable plants require less water once established. Others, such as relatively drought-tolerant plants such as melons, cucumbers and squash, require generous irrigation during fruiting, but only light watering otherwise.

What advice would you add for gardening in a drought? Share it in the section below:

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10 Vegetables That Just Might Grow Better In Containers

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10 Vegetables That Just Might Grow Better In Containers

Swiss chard. Image source: Pixabay.com

 

Growing vegetables in containers is touted as something you do if you’re an urbanite without space for a “real” garden. People often turn to container gardening when back or knee pain make bending and digging too difficult, or when the soil is so poor that it’s incapable of supporting life.

How about growing vegetables in containers because it’s a rewarding, enjoyable activity? No excuse is required. More and more people are discovering that container gardening is a perfectly viable method for growing vegetable crops.

Container gardening is so popular these days that growers have created dwarf versions of even super-size plants (like watermelons).

In fact, some vegetables actually thrive in smaller accommodations.

1. Tomatoes are a little on the fussy side, and thus, they’re perfectly suited for containers. Growing tomatoes in containers makes it easier to monitor and control soil moisture, and it’s easy to move the plants to take advantage of warmth and sunlight. Cherry or grape varieties are ideal, but most types of tomatoes, including standard sizes, do well in pots measuring a minimum of 22 inches in diameter.

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2. Lettuce has shallow roots and tends to grow best in containers that are not too deep. A small container on a front step is handy for easy snipping, while a larger container can accommodate a seed mix for colorful, flavorful salads. Move the pot to a shady spot on sunny afternoons.

3. Spinach needs rich soil, easy to provide in containers filled with a lightweight, compost-based potting mix. Locate the container where it’s sunny during the day and cool at night, and then harvest the power-packed leaves as needed.

4. Swiss chard is a durable, heat-tolerant plant that grows like crazy in containers. Harvest when the leaves are young and tender for the best flavor.

5. Potatoes are easy to plant and even easier to dig in containers, and you may be surprised how many spuds you can harvest. Try smaller varieties like Yukon gold or red Pontiac.

10 Vegetables That Just Might Grow Better In Containers

Eggplant. Image source: Pixabay.com

6. Eggplant is an attractive plant that thrives in containers, but you’ll probably have the best luck with compact varieties like Patio Baby, which produces plenty of mild-flavored, miniature fruit. Little Fingers, with clusters of three to six, long, narrow, deep purple eggplants, is yummy when harvested at finger-size.

7. Carrots do well in containers with a depth of at least 12 inches, or try short, round carrots for shallower pots. Thin the plants as they develop and enjoy the tender, finger-sized carrots. Varieties worth trying include Thumbelina or Short ‘N Sweet.

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8. Cucumbers don’t tolerate cold and should be planted in early summer in most climates. Dwarf plants with compact vines are best suited for containers, but you’ll still need a trellis to support the vines. Consider Arkansas Little Leaf, Spacemaster, Fanfare or Patio King, or try your hand at small “lemon” cucumbers.

9. Radishes, dwarf veggies by their very nature, are easy to grow in containers. Their speedy growth and colorful appearance makes them the perfect vegetable for young gardeners.

10. Summer squash is one of those vegetables that seem ill-suited for containers, but compact varieties like Spacemiser zucchini or Sunburst scalloped squash perform amazingly well in pots.

What vegetables would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

9 Ways Container Gardening Is Just Plain Better Than Traditional Gardening

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9 Ways Container Gardening Is Just Plain Better Than Traditional Gardening

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The traditional garden is a thing of beauty indeed — a well-tended patch of cultivated ground with neat, straight rows of lush, green vegetables. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that image, and many gardeners would have it no other way. In recent years, however, alternative techniques, such as square-foot or raised beds, have come to the forefront.

Container gardening is one alternative that has amassed a dedicated following of space-challenged gardeners. While lack of acreage for a traditional garden is one reason for the popularity of container gardening, it’s only scratching the surface when it comes to the many benefits of growing vegetables in pots:

1. No weeding necessary – Any gardener who has ever planted a traditional garden is familiar with the arduous labor involved in frequent weed pulling and hoeing under the hot summer sun. Vegetables in containers, on the other hand, are generally grown in sterile potting medium. It isn’t impossible that a stray weed may occasionally find its way to the container, but weeds are rare and easily dispatched.

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2. Easy on the back – If your back complains every time you grab a shovel or hoe, then give yourself a break; container gardening is easy on the back, (and the knees, too). While container gardening is helpful for folks with a few aches and pains, it’s often the answer for people who have had to give up the pleasure of gardening due to various physical limitations. Even a wheelchair-bound person can enjoy container gardening.

3. Decreased chance of disease – Container-grown vegetables certainly aren’t immune from disease, but plants in a well-drained container filled with lightweight potting mix tend to be less susceptible than those grown in the ground. Proper watering is a factor, as soggy soil may result in root rot, which is nearly always fatal.

4. Reign in aggressive plants – If you’re concerned that a plant is beautiful and useful but just too much of a pest to grow in the garden, then a container will control rambunctious growth. Mint and lemon balm are prime examples of lovely, aromatic herbs that will take over your entire landscape very quickly if they aren’t contained.

9 Ways Container Gardening Is Just Plain Better Than Traditional Gardening5. Control the weather! (Sort of) – Moving containers from one spot to another allows you to take advantage of sunlight or shade, or to provide shelter in case of an unexpected cold snap, which in turn, means a longer growing season. Place a large container on a rolling platform to simplify relocation.

6. Fresh and convenient – Containers on a patio, deck or balcony are typically handy to the kitchen. Snip a few fresh herbs for dinner or harvest leafy lettuce or spinach and a juicy, ripe tomato for an unbelievably delicious salad. What could be better (or fresher)?

7. A no-till garden – Tilling isn’t only back-breaking work, but loosening the soil can unleash a monstrous amount of dormant weed seeds, meaning more back-breaking work throughout the season. Additionally, many gardening pros agree that cultivation actually disturbs important soil organisms, thus upsetting the natural balance of life in the garden.

Seamazing: The Low-Cost Way To Re-mineralize Your Soil

8. Containers are pretty – Containers may be as utilitarian as an old washtub or a row of terracotta pots, but for gardeners with a creative bent, pots are available in nearly every color under the rainbow. Look for containers made of wood, glazed ceramic, plastic or concrete, each with their own set of advantages and a few drawbacks, too. Have fun, but do your homework and consider your budget before investing in containers for your vegetable crop.

9. Vegetables are pretty, too – It’s all about practicality when it comes to growing vegetables in containers, but it’s a nice bonus that many vegetables are also highly decorative. Bright purple kale may be the queen of ornamental vegetables, but colorful veggies like chili peppers, bold rainbow chard, or bright purple eggplant add a real spark to the container garden. Don’t forget irresistible red tomatoes; frilly parsley or carrot plants; spiky, upright onions and chives; bright green basil; purple green beans on a trellis; or a cucumber vine draped gracefully over the side of the container.

What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

Bust Inflation With A Low-Cost, High-Production Garden. Read More Here.

9 Popular Vegetables You Can Plant, From Seed, In July

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9 Popular Vegetables You Can Plant, From Seed, In July

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Time flies, doesn’t it? Prime time for planting certain long-season vegetables may have come and gone, but unless you live in a climate with a short growing season, you still have time to plant plenty of vegetables before the first frost.

Obviously, gardeners in super-hot climates might not be able to plant everything on this list, but for gardeners in most parts of North America, try planting these this month:

1. Bush beans – Check your calendar; if you have 45-65 days before the first average frost date in your area, then you have time to plant bush beans. Hold off if you tend to have early freezes; beans aren’t cold tolerant and are killed by frost.

2. Carrots, beets and turnips — Root crops aren’t typically fast-growing vegetables, but carrots, beets and turnip can burst out in a hurry in warm weather, and all three can tolerate a light frost. Look for them to ripen in 50-60 days.

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3. Kohlrabi – If you haven’t tried this mild, crunchy veggie, then there’s still time for a crop this year. Kohlrabi is ready to pick in 50-60 days and tolerates light frost. Although kohlrabi loves sunshine, it’s a cool season crop, so a spot in morning sunlight and afternoon shade is preferable.

9 Popular Vegetables You Can Plant, From Seed, In July

Radishes. Image source: Pixabay.com

4. Radishes – If you’re looking for a super-speedy, dependable vegetable, then you can’t miss with radishes. However, radishes don’t like extreme heat and may bolt in hot climates. Look for heat-tolerant varieties like Rover, Inca, Roxanne, Cherry Belle or Crunchy Royale.

5. Pak choi – Harvest this tender oriental vegetable after about a month, or wait another couple of weeks if you prefer pak choi in heads. Also known as bok choy, pak choi isn’t terribly finicky about high temperatures, but partial shade is a good idea if you’re concerned about bolting.

6. Peas – Plant peas in early July and be ready to harvest in 70 to 80 days. The plants are ready for harvest by autumn in most climates, but don’t worry about a light frost; peas can survive temps in the high 20s.

7. Lettuce (and other salad crops). What? Gardeners know that lettuce is a cool season crop that performs best in spring and autumn, but it’s possible to grow lettuce even in the heat of summer. With a few workarounds, you can continue to plant lettuce every two or three weeks throughout the season.

  • Plant lettuce in semi-shade. A little light morning or evening sunlight is enough to keep your plants healthy, without bolting too soon. Use shade cloth if necessary, or plant lettuce to the north of a bean trellis, sunflowers or other tall plant.
  • Grow lettuce in containers so you can move the veggies into shade as needed. If you use a heavy container, a rolling platform simplifies the task and saves your back.
  • Provide plenty of water – preferably from a drip system or soaker hose. Never allow the soil to become bone dry.
  • Try some of the following heat-tolerant varieties, which tend to be slow to bolt and resistant to bitterness. Butterhead/bibb lettuce – Adriana, Summer Bibb, Buttercrunch or Fireball; Romaine/cos – Green Towers, Cimmaron, Jericho or Little Gem; Iceberg/crisphead – Ithaca, Summertime, Calmar or Great Lakes; Red leaf – Red Fire, Lovelock, Red Sails or Ruby.

8. Garlic – Planting garlic in July is no problem. Let the garlic winter in the ground, then harvest it next summer.

9. Herbs – Fast-growing herbs suitable for planting in July include dill, coriander and parsley. Cilantro and basil are speedy growers, ready to snip in about a month.

What would you add to this list? Share your tips for planting in July in the section below:

Every Year, Gardeners Make This Dumb Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

8 Organic Ways To Keep Your Garden Bug-Free (No. 4 Kills Them Quick — But Is Safe For Humans!)

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Image source: Pixabay.com

Image source: Pixabay.com

 

If you’re determined to grow a healthy garden without benefit of pesticides, you’re definitely on the right track. Conventional pesticides kill both good and bad bugs, leaving no natural controls that keep pests in check. As a result, pests are replaced with even tougher, chemical-resistant super-pests, with no beneficial insects left behind to maintain control.

Try not to panic if your plants are bothered by an occasional nibble, as “sharing” the garden is part of growing organically. Keep your plants properly watered. Ensure the soil is healthy and rich in organic materials. Keep in mind that healthy plants are always more pest-resistant than plants that are stressed.

If you find that your garden is overrun with pests in spite of good gardening practices, then consider natural alternatives such as these.

1. Beneficial insects. Such as lacewings, ladybugs, ground beetles, pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, praying mantis and hover-flies. Beneficial insects have preferred targets, so a healthy diversity of helpful bugs will help control a variety of pests, such as aphids, thrips, scale, mites and whiteflies.

2. Beneficial plants. Many blooming plants attract beneficial insects. For example, try alyssum, cosmos, Shasta daisy, yarrow, calendula and coreopsis, as well as herbs like dill, fennel, lemon balm, parsley and coriander. On the other hand, some plants, most notably marigolds, may help deter harmful pests.

3. Handpicking. Although it isn’t anybody’s favorite job, picking pests by hand is a highly effective natural pest control technique made easier with a good pair of gardening gloves. Most pickable insects, including caterpillars, slugs and tomato hornworms, are most active at dusk.

4. Diatomaceous earth. This powdery substance is made of the skeletal remains of tiny marine creatures known as diatoms. The abrasive dust abrades the outer covering of soft-bodied pests like potato beetles, squash bugs, slugs, snails, aphids, whiteflies and others, causing the pest to dry out and die. Although diatomaceous earth is safe, wear a dust mask because the dust can irritate your lungs.

Diatomaceous Earth: The All-Natural Insect Killer!

5. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – A naturally occurring bacteria, Bt is non-toxic to humans, pets, birds and wildlife. However, when it is eaten by pests, the toxin dissolves in the gut and causes death in three to five days. Bt, available as spray or dust, is best applied in late afternoon and must be reapplied after rainfall or irrigation. The substance also can be mixed with insecticidal soap (see below), which improves coverage.

8 Organic Ways To Keep Your Garden Bug-Free (No. 4 Kills Them Quick -- But Is Safe For Humans!)

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6. Insecticidal soap – A spray made of natural soap (not dish soap or hand soap), insecticidal soap spray isn’t toxic to people or animals, but deadly to soft-bodied pests like aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies and spider mites. It is relatively safe, but because it kills on contact, it shouldn’t be applied when beneficial insects are present on the plant. Insecticidal soap spray works fast and is safe to use on vegetables up to harvest time. Don’t spray in the heat of the day or when the sun is directly on the plant.

7. Homemade sprays – The jury is out on homemade pest control sprays; some gardeners swear by them, while others claim they are a waste of time. If you’re inundated with pests, it won’t hurt to give them a try, and they might just work.

  • Garlic spray – Blend 10-12 garlic cloves in a quart of water, and then let the smelly mixture sit for at least a full day. Strain the solution through cheesecloth and add a cup of vegetable oil. For even more punch, add a tablespoon of cayenne pepper or chili powder, then let the mixture sit for another 24 hours. The spray, which is highly concentrated, should be mixed at a rate of ½ cup to 1 gallon of water.
  • Insecticidal soap spray – Mix 1 ½ tablespoon of natural soap (such as castile or oil soap) with a quart of water and a few drops of cooking oil, which helps the spray stick to foliage. You also can add a teaspoon of garlic or a garlic bulb, and/or a small amount of cayenne pepper. Some gardeners like to add one or two drops of citrus essential oil.
  • Red pepper spray – This simple spray consists of a tablespoon of chili powder or cayenne pepper and six drops of natural soap in a gallon of water. Mix well and apply weekly, or as needed.

8. Horticultural oil – A type of highly refined oil, horticultural oil plugs the pores so that insects can’t breathe. They soon suffocate. Although the oil dissipates quickly and little residue is left behind, horticultural oil shouldn’t be applied on very hot or cold days, or on drought-stressed plants. Horticultural oil is effective against a variety of pests, including spider mites, aphids, leaf hoppers and whiteflies, among others.

What all-natural pest-control recipes would you add? Share your gardening tips in the section below:

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Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

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Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

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Clover is a hardy perennial that has escaped cultivation and grows wild along roadsides and in fields, pastures and gardens across North America. The tough little plant gets short shrift these days, and many gardeners consider it nothing but a weedy nuisance that pops up where it isn’t wanted — like in beautifully manicured lawns.

But if you’re tempted to pull (or worse yet – spray) this plant, consider that every part of clover is edible.

Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

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Native Americans ate clover raw, or steamed large quantities of fresh, moist leaves between two hot stones. The roots, when dried, were dipped in meat drippings or oil. The dried seed pods and flowers were ground into powder and sprinkled on food or used to make bread.

There are several dozen species of clover with charming names like sweet kitty clover, meadow honeysuckle clove, peavine clover and cowgrass clover. But white clover (Trifolium repens) and red clover (Trifolium pratense) are most familiar. Both are edible and packed with beta-carotene, protein and a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals.

Clover is easily recognized by its sweetly scented little blooms and three-lobed leaves. Although clover is sometimes confused with wood sorrel, it’s quite easy to tell which is which. Clover leaves are oval in shape, while wood sorrel leaves look like little hearts. Additionally, clover leaves are marked on top with distinctive, whitish-crescent shapes, and if you look closely at a clover leaf, you’ll notice that the edges are slightly serrated.

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Red clover, which is believed to be slightly more nutritious than white clover, is a robust plant that can reach a height of 24 inches. It has a taproot. White clover is a smaller plant that spreads by rhizomes.

Adventures With Clover

There are no particular tricks when it comes to integrating clover into your diet. The key is to keep it simple. For example, eat the blooms and leaves raw or dip them in a little salty water. You also can toss a few leaves or blooms into salads, soup or stir fries. Many people claim that clover (a member of the pea family) is more flavorful and easier to digest after it’s been boiled for five or 10 minutes, but you may have your own ideas. If you’re looking for a nudge to get you started with edible clover, here are a few easy ideas:

Clover: The ‘Annoying’ Little Weed That Is Edible, Tasty, And Nutritious, Too

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Clover tea is nutritious, comforting and is believed to be a blood purifier that helps the body eliminate waste materials. Gather flowers when they’re in full bloom, then dry them in a warm, airy spot away from direct sunlight. When the blooms are brittle, chop them loosely and store them in sealed glass containers. Place a teaspoon or two of dried blooms in a cup and add boiling water. Let the tea steep for a few minutes and strain out the blooms. If the flavor is a bit too “green” for your liking, stir in a drop of peppermint or spearmint oil or stir the tea with a cinnamon stick.

Arrange a handful of clover greens on a grilled cheese or turkey sandwich along with sliced tomatoes, lettuce or accoutrements of your choice. The younger the greens, the less bitter they will be.

Stir washed clover blossoms into fritter batter, and then deep fat fry until crispy.

Sprinkle the tender leaves and blooms on green salads, or as a garnish to add flavor and color to your favorite meat or fish.

Saute clover leaves and blooms in olive oil, and then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Mix a small amount of clover blossoms into cake mix or other baked goods. The blooms are reported to add a slightly vanilla-like flavor.

Be adventurous with clover. The culinary possibilities of this tasty little plant are nearly endless.

Have you eaten clover? What advice would you add? Share your clover tips in the section below:

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How To Grow Cool-Weather Crops (Even Lettuce!) During Summer

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How To Grow Cool-Weather Crops (Even Lettuce!) During Summer

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What do lettuce, spinach, mustard, kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage have in common? They all like cool weather – preferably in the 60s. When days get long and temperatures climb into the 80s and above, these sensitive veggies tend to give up and call it good for the season.

The combination of sunlight and heat causes plants to bolt, meaning they send up a flowering stalk and soon go to seed. When plants bolt, the leaves get tough and the flavor turns bitter and unpleasant.

There’s nothing you can do about the weather, but with a little tender loving care, you may be able to grow cool weather crops all summer long.

Choose Heat-Resistant Cultivars

Fortunately, gardeners in warm summer climates have a huge selection of heat- or bolt-resistant varieties from which to choose. Your favorite seed store or garden center can advise you about suitable plants for your climate, but here’s a hint: Look for cultivars with names that suggest a high level of heat-tolerance, such as summertime, slobolt, sun king, summercrisp or summerbibb.

Provide a Little Shade

Cool-season vegetables perform better in light shade, or at least a spot where they are protected from hot afternoon sunlight. You can always tuck a few plants alongside hosta or other shade-loving perennials, or take advantage of a shady spot under corn, sunflowers, tomatoes or other taller plants – preferably on the north side.

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If shade is at a premium in your garden, shade cloth may be your best bet. Although you can get super-duper shade cloth that blocks up to 90 percent of sunlight, 30 to 50 percent is about right in most climates. Research indicates that use of shade cloth can increase yields considerably.

How To Grow Cool-Weather Crops (Even Lettuce!) During Summer

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Container planting is always an option, as nearly any vegetable is suitable for container growing as long as the container is large enough to accommodate the roots. The good thing about container growing is that you can always move the veggies into shade – say, under a tree or patio — when the mercury climbs.

Cool, Cool Water

Water cool-season veggies lightly every day. Even the hardiest plants wilt in hot weather, but water cools the soil, keeps plants hydrated and offers heat-stressed plants a bit of welcome relief. Don’t worry about watering too deeply; lettuce and most other cool-season vegetables have shallow roots.

Easy on the Fertilizer

Don’t fertilize heavily during hot weather; fertilizer creates lush, leafy plants more prone to damage by heat and sunlight. (And more inviting to aphids and other pests.) If you’re convinced the plants need fertilizer, add a small handful of a balanced fertilizer at planting time.

It’s a Small, Small World

Instead of planting large crops, practice the art of succession planting, which will keep you in fresh veggies all summer. Try planting a small patch or a four-foot row, and then plant a new patch every seven to 10 days. When the first patch is nearing the end of its useful life, the next patch will be up and coming.

Harvest When Cool

Harvest your garden during the cool part of the day, when the plants are crispy and well hydrated. Bring the veggies into the house and get them in the fridge as soon as possible.

To prolong the harvest and increase the yield of lettuce, spinach or other leafy crops, snip the leaves close to the ground, and then harvest the new leaves that grow in their place. This technique is known as “cut and come again.”

Mulch Much?

A thin layer of mulch helps keep the soil cool and most. Be careful, however, and limit mulch to a couple of inches if slugs are a problem. You may need to skip mulch if slugs are winning the battle.

What advice would you add on planting cool-weather crops during summer? Share your advice in the section below:

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Chickweed: The Edible, Tasty ‘Superfood’ You Mow Over Every Week

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Image source: Pixabay.com

 

What the heck is chickweed and why would I want it in my salad? If you’re like many gardeners, you yank this common weed out of your carefully tended vegetable garden and toss it into your compost bin. Using chickweed as compost isn’t a terrible idea, but you’re missing out on a versatile, flavorful plant. Better yet, you don’t have to plant it, and it’s completely free.

Chickweed is truly worthy of superfood status, rich in vitamins B, C and D, and minerals such as calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and iron. The plant provides anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to be a blood purifier. It has been used through the ages for its many medicinal qualities.

Chances are good that you have easy access to this tasty weed; it grows in nearly every climate across North America.

Dangerous Lookalikes

Before you decide to harvest chickweed for edible purposes, be sure you know exactly what you’re harvesting, because spurge and scarlet pimpernel are chickweed lookalikes. Both are poison and the latter can be deadly, so do your homework. (Although the Internet has a lot of very good information, it’s a good idea to confirm identification in person with two or three experts before eating any wild plant.)

Identifying Chickweed

Chickweed (Stellaria media) tends to grow in thick, intertwined mats, usually no more than four inches in height. Its most important distinguishing characteristic is a single, thin line of white hair that runs up the stems.

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Chickweed produces tiny, tear-shaped leaves and dainty, white, star-shaped flowers. The flowers look like they have 10 petals, but if you look closer you can see they actually consist of five, deeply indented petals. This is an important identifying feature.

The Harvest

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Image source: Pixabay.com

Look for chickweed in spring and cool weather, as this isn’t a heat- or sun-loving plant. You’ll find it growing in woods, meadows, roadsides, lawns or shady garden spots – usually places that have been disturbed. Chickweed may grow in full sunlight, but it flowers and goes to seed quickly. When conditions are just right and temperatures aren’t too warm, you can harvest the plant for up to six weeks.

To harvest chickweed, grab a handful and pull the bunch straight up. Locate the tips of the plants and cut the upper six inches or so with scissors or clippers. Leave the base and lower stems, which tend to be a little on the tough, stringy side. Pick out grass and other less palatable plant matter, and you’re good to go.

Using Chickweed

Have fun and use your imagination, because the sky is the limit when it comes to using chickweed in the kitchen.

The plant is tastiest when used fresh. You may be tempted to dry it like an herb, but it doesn’t last long and loses its nutritional qualities quickly. Instead, store chickweed in the refrigerator as you would spinach or lettuce. If you harvested more than you can possibly use, freeze it and add it to soup stock or other hot dishes.

Salad is the obvious choice for using any type of green, and it’s a good way for beginners to experiment with this tasty wild plant. Snip chickweed into small pieces and add it to a green salad along with grated carrots or beets. Other tasty and nutritious additives include sunflower seeds, nuts, parsley, chives or other wild greens like watercress.

Stir chopped chickweed into omelets or scrambled eggs. Chickweed pairs just fine with mushrooms, onions or other veggies.

Steam chickweed much like spinach or other greens. Make it quick, as overcooking causes loss of valuable nutrients. You can also add chickweed to your favorite stir fry.

Create a chickweed sandwich. For example, pile a handful of chopped chickweed on a slice of tasty bread and sprinkle it with a little sea salt or drizzle lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice. You can always add chickweed to a tuna sandwich, or pile on bacon, tomato or avocado.

Blend chickweed into a smoothie. If you want a super-nutritional treat, combine chickweed with other wild plants like nettles, watercress, lamb’s quarters or dandelion leaves. If you aren’t wild about the slightly earthy flavor, try adding fruit. Any type is great, but citrus fruits like pineapple and orange are especially delicious.

Have you eaten chickweed? What advice would you add on picking and eating it? Share your tips in the section below:

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Garden Buddies: Vegetables That Thrive And Flourish Next To Each Other

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Garden Buddies: Vegetables That Thrive And Flourish Next To Each Other

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Companion planting makes sense in an organic garden by creating plant diversity and using garden space more efficiently. Some plants work as pest deterrents, while others act as traps, drawing harmful bugs away from more susceptible veggies. Some gardeners are convinced that companion planting doubles the harvest, making it well worth the extra effort.

The Native American Three Sisters planting method, which involves corn, beans and squash, is one of the best examples of how companion planting works. As corn stalks gain height, they provide support for vining bean plants, and the beans repay the favor by fixing nitrogen in the soil. Squash, a fast-growing plant, does its part by shading the soil, preserving moisture and helping keep weeds in check.

Keep in mind that companion planting is not an exact science, and what works well for your friend across town may not work for you. Experimentation will reveal what natural friendships crop up in your garden.

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Beets – Cabbage and related plants do well near beet plants, as do members of the onion family. Beets also like bush beans, lettuce and chard, but it’s best to keep them away from pole beans.

Garden Buddies: Vegetables That Thrive And Flourish Next To Each Other

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Beans – Bush beans interact positively with cucumbers, corn, radishes, celery, beets and members of the cabbage family. Pole beans, on the other hand, are a little pickier; they get along famously with radishes and corn, but hate beets. Plant potatoes next to either type of bean if you have problem with beetles, as potatoes tend to repel the pests. Avoid onions, garlic, leeks and chives, which may stunt bean plant growth.

Carrots – Onions, garlic and leeks help repel carrot flies and other pests, while members of the cabbage family also tend to discourage various pests that bug carrots. Beneficial carrot buddies also include peas, beans, lettuce, radishes, peppers and tomatoes.

Sweet corn – Beans are super helpful companion plants for corn, attracting beneficial insects that feast on corn-ravaging pests. Other companion plants that may enhance corn plant growth include potatoes, beans, melons, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and peas. However, plant corn and tomatoes at least 4 feet apart, as the two don’t do well together.

Cucumbers – Cucumbers thrive on nitrogen that peas and beans provide to the soil, while radishes help by drawing cucumber beetles away from tender cukes. Corn is a good companion for cucumbers, but potatoes and melons aren’t so good. Plant them in a different area of the garden.

Lettuce – Plant onions, garlic and chives nearby to deter aphids, maggots and other pests. Additionally, you can plant lettuce under tall tomatoes or corn, as lettuce appreciates the cool shade. Lettuce also gets along well with carrots, cucumbers, parsnips, beets and members of the cabbage family.

Onions – Onions grow well alongside many vegetable plants, including tomatoes, beets, peppers, lettuce, carrots, chard and most members of the cabbage family (with the exception of kohlrabi).

Peas – Plant peas near radishes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, parsley, tomatoes and turnips, but not in close proximity to onions, garlic, leeks or chives.

Peppers – Peppers get along well with most vegetables, including eggplant, parsley, carrots, tomatoes and members of the onion family. On the other hand, beans and peppers aren’t a good combination.

Garden Buddies: Vegetables That Thrive And Flourish Next To Each Other

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Radish – Radishes are cheerful little plants that get along with most vegetables, including carrots, beets, parsnips and spinach. Many gardeners think companion planting radishes and lettuce makes radishes more tender. However, it’s best not to plant radish in close proximity to members of the cabbage family.

Spinach – When you plant spinach and radishes side by side, the spinach works as a trap plant, meaning it attracts leafminers that are capable of decimating your spinach crop. Chinese mustard works in much the same fashion. Spinach also grows well alongside eggplants, celery and members of the cabbage family.

Potatoes – Plant spuds along with beans, eggplant, corn, peas and members of the cabbage family, but locate tomatoes, melons, squash, turnips and cucumbers in another corner of your garden.

Tomatoes – Many gardeners believe that chives can make tomatoes even sweeter. Other good tomato companions include parsley, carrots, celery, asparagus, onions, garlic and leeks. Tomatoes and corn are enemies, primarily because they tend to attract the same pests. Similarly, potatoes are susceptible to the same blight, which means they aren’t good companions for tomatoes. Plant tomatoes away from cauliflower, kale and other members of the cabbage family, which are believed to stunt tomato plant growth.

Which vegetables do you plant near one another – and avoid planting near one another? Share your tips in the section below:

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Bugs Eating Your Vegetables? These 7 Beneficial Flowers Will Chase Them Away

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Gone are the days when vegetable gardens were planted in neat, perfectly measured rows that would please the toughest drill sergeant. Flowers, which don’t take well to precision planting, were relegated to their own beds.

These days, organic gardeners understand that vegetables and flowers can be the best of friends. Like true friendships, one complements the other, and life is better for both, which means increased yield for you.

Careful companion planting uses space more efficiently. For example, tall plants provide shade for tender, low-growing plants, while vining or low-growing plants serve as living mulch.

Certain blooming plants possess various qualities that tend to repel pests. Some, known as trap plants, are brave souls that sacrifice their own wellbeing by drawing pests away from susceptible vegetables. Others help organic gardeners by attracting beneficial insects that feast on veggie-destroying marauders.

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One of the best things about planting a few flowers in the vegetable garden, apart from their obvious color and beauty, is their ability to attract fleets of bees and other critical pollinators.

Companion Planting Flowers and Vegetables

Companion planting is one part science and two parts pure experimentation. Some flower-veggie partnerships may work for you, and others may not. To find out, rely on combinations that make sense for your gardening plan. Include a few flowers that bring you pleasure, and you can’t go wrong.

1. Nasturtiums.

With their happy-go-lucky nature and bright yellow, orange and gold flowers, nasturtiums are one of the most effective trap plants in the garden. The plants excrete an oil that aphids and other pests adore, which means they quickly lose interest in your beans, corn, cucumbers and tomatoes.

2. Petunias.

Like nasturtiums, petunias are a trap crop that draws aphids, leafhoppers and beetles away from plants like squash, asparagus and cucumbers.

3. Sunflowers.

Sunflowers take up a lot of space, but they’re fantastic if you have a sunny spot where their shade won’t be a problem. Birds love sunflower seeds, and they also like to perch on the tall plants. While they’re in the neighborhood, they’re likely to swoop down and scoop up a few beetles, grasshoppers and cabbageworms. As an added benefit, many gardeners believe sunflowers draw thrips away from veggies, especially peppers.

4. Marigolds.

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Image source: Pixabay.com

If you plant only one type of companion flower in your garden, make it marigolds. Marigolds are easy to get along with, and the bright spot of color is irresistible to hoverflies and bees. More importantly, the roots excrete a powerful natural chemical that is fatal to nematodes and other underground pests.

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Marigolds are beneficial for nearly any veggie in the garden, especially onions, garlic, melons, corn, tomatoes, squash and radishes. If rabbits are munching on your veggies, a row of the strong-scented flowers may be enough to keep them at bay.

5. Dianthus. 

Some gardeners swear that dianthus, also known as pinks, help draw slugs from your tender vegetable plants. If slugs are a problem in your garden, dianthus is definitely worth a try.

6. Calendula.

The bright color of calendula attracts ladybugs, lacewings and other aphid-eating insects, and some gardeners say calendula draw earwigs away from corn and other veggies. Calendula is especially beneficial when planted in the vicinity of kale.

7. Zinnias.

Zinnias draw pollinators and predatory insects like ladybugs to the vegetable garden. Additionally, they attract hummingbirds, which aren’t only fun to watch, but reduce the numbers of many flying pests, especially pesky mosquitoes.

What companion flowers would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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