Growing Lettuce From Seed

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Growing Lettuce at Home

When lettuce is mentioned, many people think of the standard iceberg lettuce found in supermarkets and restaurant salads. But that is changing quickly with the growth in popularity of different types of lettuces, mainly due to the flavors and colors that they offer. When you’re growing lettuce from seed at home, you can choose from the full spectrum of seed that’s available.

At farmers markets, health food coops, and organic food stores, a big variety of lettuce types have cropped up.  Their colors range from deep red to mottled greens, all the way to almost white.  And their flavors vary from noticeably sweet to tangy, and slightly bitter.

Iceberg lettuce, originally bred as a hybrid, is now offered as open pollinated varieties and has been around long enough to be considered by some as an “heirloom”!

Eating with the Seasons

We have come to expect lettuce year round. We’ve been educated by the supermarkets about what our vegetables should look like, what they should taste like, and when they should be available. And for most of them, we expect them to be available all year.

Many people are surprised to learn that lettuce is a cool-season crop.  It will bolt, or go to seed, readily during late spring and early summer months.

Where I live, it is best to plant lettuce early in the spring and then again in late summer or early fall when the temperatures start to cool off.

Infographic: Save Our Seeds

Better Lettuce Seed Germination

Lettuce seeds won’t sprout when soil temperatures are above 80° F.  But they will start to Freckles-LettuceWeb1-germinate as low as 40°F, making it ideal for early- and late-season planting.

When temperatures are too high, a plant hormone is produced that stops the germination process. This is called thermo-inhibition. This trait is a carryover from wild lettuce that originated in the Mediterranean Middle East, where summers are hot with little moisture. If the lettuce seeds were to sprout under these conditions, they would soon die out and the species would go extinct.

Choose Heat-Resistant Lettuce

Thanks to traditional plant breeding, several varieties of lettuce have been selected for heat-tolerant characteristics. And some of these are open-pollinated, meaning you can save the seeds from year to year.

Some examples are Saint Anne’s Slow Bolting, Summertime, Black Seeded Simpson, and Jericho. Just because these are heat tolerant doesn’t mean that they will grow through the summer. It only means that they won’t bolt or turn bitter quite as quickly.

Growing Lettuce from Seed: Tips & Tricks

Thanks to ongoing research on lettuce traits, there are some techniques home gardeners can use to extend the sprouting for lettuce seeds into the warmer months. The optimum soil temperature for most lettuce seeds is 68°F, with some varieties sprouting in the 40-75°F range. The temperature of the soil must be taken—not just the air temperature, which can be several degrees different.

Imbibing or soaking the seeds in cool water for 16-24 hours in a well-lit area before planting will increase the germination percentages greatly. Red light has been found to be the best color, but if you don’t have access to a non-heating red light, sunlight or full-spectrum light was found to be almost as good. In warm conditions, soaking the seeds in the dark can actually decrease their germination rates. And soaking for less than 16 hours has little to no positive effect on germination rates.

Read More: 7 Tips to Start Seed Like a Professional Grower

Extending the Lettuce Season

Successful methods of extending the season for lettuce in the garden include laying a thick mulch of straw or wood chips on the ground at least 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep. This insulates the soil from becoming too hot and helps to preserve moisture in the soil.

Lightly shading the lettuce plants can provide enough of a temperature drop to keep them from bolting, sometimes up to 3-5 weeks. Shade can be from a shade cloth or a row cover on a low tunnel, or by companion planting tall, wide-leafed plants such as some types of pumpkin.

The traditional rule of thumb of “plant early and plant often” can be adjusted for lettuce as “plant late and plant often.”  When temperatures start to drop, be ready to start more lettuce seed for a second harvest in the fall.

Read More: A Cheap and Easy Way to Extend Your Growing Season

(This article was originally published May 22, 2014.)

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The Top 10 Tropical Staple Crops (VIDEO)

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Earlier this year I created a video on the top 10 tropical staple crops. It took me way too long to write and edit, so I hope you find it incredibly helpful.

Let’s run through them here, along with a few notes.

10: Grain Corn



Stick to dent corn varieties in warm, hot climates. Flint corns are better for up north, dent for down south. Corn needs decent soil and plenty of nitrogen, but it’s the best grain for production and processing—much easier to process than small grains like oats, rye, and wheat. You need to nixtamalize it with lime or eat it as part of a balanced diet to avoid pellagra, a niacin deficiency which will really mess you up.

9: Pumpkins/Winter Squash



These are one of my favorite plants to grow. In the tropics, most of the pumpkins grown are C. moschata types, though there are others, too. Pumpkins take up a lot of space, but make big, storable fruit. On the downside, they’re not that calorie dense and it’s easy to get sick of eating pumpkins.

8: Breadfruit



Breadfruit is delicious and productive, plus it’s a tree so you don’t need to plow and plant like you do with annual staples. They are tough trees, though they can’t take any cold. The downside is that the breadfruit come in seasons instead of spread out through the year.

7: Coconuts


So long as you don’t cut through your hand while opening them, coconuts are very good. They are high in good fats and nutrients, grow easily even in terrible soil, and require very little work to maintain. The fronds are also useful for crafts, thatching, baskets, and more. The downside of coconuts is they are a pain to open.

6: Bananas and Plantains


It’s a fruit! No, it’s a starch!

Unripe bananas and plantains can be cooked and eaten like potatoes or fried like chips, making them a good way to fill in the caloric cracks. Though they are non-seasonal, they do produce better in the rainy season unless you keep them watered. And they like a lot of water! They also like a lot of nitrogen. Plant them around the septic tank and you’re golden.

5: Malanga and Taro

Malanga Roots

Malanga, a.k.a. dasheen, has edible leaves (when cooked ONLY) and tubers (ditto). They like a lot of water and grow like weeds in a drainage ditch or shallow pond.

4: Pigeon Peas

Pigeon Peas

Pigeon peas are a very easy-to-grow nitrogen-fixing tropical staple crop. The dry peas are a good source of protein and the younger peas can be eaten like common green peas. If you have marginal ground, hack holes in it and plant pigeon peas. The downside is that shelling the peas takes way too long. I also find them a bit hard to digest.

3: Cassava

Cassava Coming Up

Cassava is a carbohydrate bazooka. It’s productive even in bad soil and has roughly twice the calories of white potatoes. Unfortunately, it’s almost devoid of real nutrition. It’s just a blast of carbs. This makes it great for a crisis, but not good to eat all the time. The leaves are edible when boiled and are nutrient-rich, so it makes sense to eat the leaves and roots together.

2: Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have edible greens and roots, produce abundantly in a small space, are high in calories and nutrition, and are non-seasonal. An excellent choice for survival.

1: True Yams

Giant Yam Root

Yes, I am prejudiced. Yams (Dioscorea spp.) are my favorite staple crop. The flavor is good, they take almost no work to grow, they’ll live on the margins of a food forest, and they’ll even grow and produce when guerilla-planted in the woods. Grow some—you’ll be impressed.


Any combination of these 10 tropical staple crops could keep you alive in a crisis. I recommend planting more than one of them for variation in diet, plus redundancy. If cassava does badly one year, you’ll still have pigeon peas. If the malanga doesn’t get enough water, maybe the corn will come through. Experiment and see what grows best in your area.

Did I miss one of your favorite tropical staples? Leave me a note and let me know.


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Apartment Gardening: Reaping Abundance in a Small Space

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Today we’re going to set to work on the self-sufficiency task of apartment homesteading. Let’s talk about your Apartment Homestead garden!

There is something so simultaneously spiritual and physical about digging in the dirt, planting seeds, nurturing them to grow and prosper, and reaping the harvest of your hard work a few short months later.

But it does take work and determination, especially when you are an apartment homesteader.

Why Apartment Gardening?

As apartment homesteaders, we have to bring potting soil into our apartments instead of simply tilling up a piece of our land for the garden. We have to take cleanliness and visual appeal into consideration as we plan our apartment gardens, because we have landlords and neighbors to contend with. We have to troubleshoot issues of lack of sunlight at certain times of the day, and we have to find ways to bring the garden inside when we don’t have enough space on our patios.

In short, apartment gardening takes some creativity and determination in order to truly reap the benefits.

But we certainly have good reason to attempt to grow our own food and be on our way to self-sufficiency, even while we are still apartment and condo dwellers. Those reasons include avoiding the pesticide contamination of non-organically grown produce, saving money, and learning how to be self-sufficient for the future.

And, even if you’re a non-apartment dweller, keep in mind that you can use some of these techniques to extend your growing season by bringing the harvest indoors!

Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The Environmental Working Group keeps track yearly of the amount of pesticides used to grow certain fruits and vegetables. The foods with the heaviest pesticide contamination go in the “Dirty Dozen” column. The foods with the least amount of pesticide contamination go in the “Clean 15” column.

Here are the lists for 2017:

Dirty Dozen

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes

Clean Fifteen

  • Sweet Corn
  • Avocados
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Onions
  • Sweet Peas
  • Papayas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Grapefruit

I know we can’t all afford to buy only organic produce from the store, but with these lists in mind, we can at least be careful to purchase the Dirty Dozen organically and be a little less strict with how we purchase items from the Clean Fifteen list.

But, even better than simply buying organically produced items on the Dirty Dozen list, we can grow our own! The items in bold text on the Dirty Dozen list are the ones we’ll talk about growing in a patio, container, or indoor garden in our apartment homestead. We’ll also talk about growing other items, such as herbs and salad greens.

Remember, it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to grow everything you need to live off of in an apartment. (If you are able to do that, please comment below and share your methods with us!)

But you can grow a variety of herbs, vegetables, and fruits to get you part of the way there. And, if you can grow some of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables in your apartment, you’ll save money by having to buy fewer of them at the store!

Seeds vs. Seedlings

Some of the garden items below are easiest to grow from a small plant that you purchase at a local farm. But growing from seed is entirely possible and you may decide to go that route.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to find a seed or plant source that grows using organic methods. You don’t want to start your apartment garden with seeds or plants soaked in pesticides. You’re trying to get away from that chemical yuck!

Look for certified-organic seed sellers. Local is always better for you and for the environment.

Herbs to Grow While Apartment Gardening

There are two different types of herbs you can grow in your apartment homestead: medicinal herbs and cooking herbs. Often times, a single plant variety will serve both purposes.

We won’t get into the specific medicinal uses of each of these herbs here, but look for a future post on how to create your own “apartment apothecary”!

These are some of the herbs you might decide to grow in your apartment homestead garden:

  • Mint: Great for cooking and has medicinal uses (both)
  • Basil: Both
  • Thyme: Both
  • Oregano: Both
  • Chamomile: Use to make a medicinal tea
  • Echinacea: Medicinal
  • Feverfew: Medicinal
  • Johnny Jump Up: Medicinal
  • Lavender: Use to make a medicinal tea and for other medicinal purposes
  • Lemon Balm: Medicinal
  • Marigold: Medicinal (Pretty, too—and it helps keep pests away!)
  • Parsley: Both
  • Rosemary: Both
  • Sage: Both

There are so many ways to grow herbs in your apartment garden, but here are two of my favorites:

Grow individual herb plants in large-mouth mason jars. Plant and clearly mark one herb plant in each mason jar and display them on your kitchen counter. Most of these need some sun, so try to place them near a window. They look really nice hanging or sitting in a window sill!

Grow an “herb wall.” Plant herbs side by side in long, rectangular, wooden boxes that are lightweight and can easily be hung on a wall with studs. I’ve also seen some clever uses of old shipping pallets to make a wall planter.

Analyze your apartment space and decide what herb-planting method will work best for you . . . then share it with us!

The Apartment Homesteader Herb Garden Schedule

  1. Decide which ailments you would like to treat with natural, organic herbs. Do a simple Internet search to see which herbs may help improve those ailments or your overall health. Also make a list of herbs you use regularly in the kitchen.
  2. Look up the growing recommendations for each herb you want to plant, and make note of the supplies you’ll need. (Or, check out Marjory’s herbal how-to here!
  3. Find a local, organic seed or plant seller and purchase your plants. Also purchase (or repurpose!) your materials to “build” your garden.
  4. When your herbs are ready to harvest, decide how to preserve each herb and reap your herb garden abundance for months to come. You’ll probably use some fresh and save others for later use. Most herbs can be easily dried simply by hanging the cut stems for a few days. Some people also chop up fresh herbs, place them in ice cube trays, add water, and freeze them for later use!

Container-Friendly Vegetables and Fruits

In addition to herbs, you can also grow a bunch of your favorite fruits and vegetables in your apartment garden!

Here’s a list of some of the plants that are easy to grow in small spaces—in pots, in wall gardens, and on your patio in garden boxes:

  • Microgreens
  • Garlic Greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Salad Greens
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Green Beans
  • Kale
  • Scallions
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Ginger
  • Winter Squash
  • Watermelon
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Artichokes

Pick two or three of your favorites from this list and research planting and growing recommendations for those plants.

Start with the ones that are easiest to grow. (And bonus points for growing some of the produce on the Dirty Dozen list!) Consider planting one tomato plant, two bell pepper plants, and two different salad greens in your first garden go-round.

Just like with your herb garden, each plant will have specific instructions for optimal growth. Also, make sure you look into how much soil space each of the plants you want to try requires when mature. Then, purchase or build your pot or garden box to accommodate them.

The Apartment Homesteader Vegetable Garden Schedule

  1. Decide which fruits and vegetables you want to try to grow in your apartment garden. Pick stuff you like to eat and wouldn’t mind eating in back-to-back meals.
  2. Look up the growing recommendations for each item you want to plant, and make note of the supplies you’ll need.
  3. Find a local, organic seed or plant seller and purchase your plants. Also purchase (or repurpose!) your materials to “build” your garden.
  4. When your produce is almost ready to harvest, make a menu schedule. Find a multitude of recipes that use the produce you are growing and eat as much of it fresh as you can. You can also find recipes and methods to can, dry, or otherwise preserve your produce for eating in the future. There are some stellar tomato-preserving recipes out there!

Pick a Garden Design You (and Your Neighbors!) Will Love

I was clicking around on Pinterest the other day and came across some truly awesome patio garden designs.

One of my favorites used cinder blocks and garden fabric. This pinner stacked the cinder blocks in different ways to expose square openings in the blocks and then attached garden fabric to the inside of the exposed openings. He then filled each “cinder block pot” with soil and planted what he wanted to grow in them.

I also love the raised garden bed designs floating around. I give it bonus points if the gardener uses repurposed materials during building! Make it fun, make it fashionable, and make it sustainable—just like everything else you do as an apartment homesteader.

The same goes for your indoor garden and any container gardening you do. It might seem a little “hipster” or HGTV-wannabe to do so, but making your garden fun and fashionable (think “Pinteresting”) will inspire your friends and neighbors to create their own fun and fashionable apartment gardens. Making self-sufficiency and sustainability look cool encourages more people to pursue it.

What to Plant if You Don’t Get Enough Sun

If your apartment doesn’t face the right way for optimal sunlight, don’t fret! You can still grow a multitude of plants, but you need to get even more creative with your choices.

Here is a list of herbs that grow well in the shade:

  • Mint
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Tarragon
  • Golden Oregano
  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme
  • Angelica
  • Anise

And here are vegetables that grow well in the shade:

  • Salad Greens and Leafy Greens
  • Cauliflower
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Radishes
  • Swish Chard
  • Beans

Or make your own sunlight by purchasing a sun lamp. Just search online for “plant growing lamps”—you’ll find a bunch of options to choose from.

Restarting Plants From “Scraps”

Another really cool way to live a truly sustainable apartment homesteader life is to restart some of your garden items from scraps!

Check out this long list of produce you can restart from your organic table scraps:

  • Leaks
  • Spring Onions
  • Scallions
  • Fennel
  • Lemongrass
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Ginger
  • Potatoes
  • Avocadoes
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pineapple
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Pumpkins
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Turnips
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Lemons
  • Hazelnuts
  • Chestnuts

Remember, once they get going, many of these will need more room than a pot provides, plus a warm climate or heated greenhouse to grow properly. Take that into account before you go through the work of restarting a lemon tree in a northern climate.

Community Gardens

If gardening in your apartment is simply not an option, look around your city for community gardens to join.

You’d be surprised how many community gardens there are around you. For a small fee, you’ll be allocated a small parcel of the garden and you can plant what you want to plant.

Make sure you ask about the garden’s policy on the use of pesticides. If the rest of the gardeners douse their produce in chemicals, you may want to look elsewhere for a garden space.

Once you’ve found your community garden plot, plant a handful of medicinal herbs, a tomato plant, some leafy greens, beans, a row or two of potatoes, a few pepper plants, and any other vegetables you can’t live without.

If for some crazy reason there aren’t any community gardens near you, start your own with other apartment homesteaders! Start a Meetup group for people in the area interested in homesteading and gauge how much land you’ll need to grow a community garden.

Ask your landlord about possible locations for a community garden in the area, or seek out churches and community groups to see if they will sell or allocate a small parcel of land for garden use. You never know what kind of neighborhood green initiative you might start by simply asking questions and offering some encouragement.

What if You Don’t Have a Green Thumb?

Do you lack the gift of growing? Don’t worry; do research. Find local homesteaders and inquire about working in their gardens or in other areas of their homesteads in exchange for free produce.

But don’t just work. Ask questions. See what knowledge you can glean from established homesteaders who grow their own food.

Before you know it, you could be well on your way to becoming a green-thumbed expert in the field of apartment-homestead gardening.

There are so many ways we apartment homesteaders can practice self-sufficiency, even when we don’t have any physical land to grow on. With some creativity, research, and a little determination, we can become abundant apartment homestead gardeners.

Share your apartment garden projects below! We’d love to hear from you!



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10 Most Cost-effective Garden Vegetables You Can Grow

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There are a lot of benefits to garden vegetables that you grow yourself, but saving money is not necessarily one of them.

Some vegetables are simply cheaper to buy at the grocery store. I know. I hate saying that, too!

Over the years, saving money is not always the main reason we grow garden vegetables. Am I right?

Sometimes the work needed to keep the soil happy, the beds weed free, with healthy plants discourages us from planting crops that are “dirt cheap” in season at the grocery store.

If you’re growing vegetables to save money, or want to make the most of your garden, here are ten garden vegetables that can put money back in your wallet.

Did you miss this article about the cost of grocery shopping versus home grown food?

The Big 10 Garden Vegetables!

These veggies are easy-to-grow in your vegetable garden big or small. Depending on your growing season, you may even be able to plant two or three times. (See succession planting below)

1. Lettuce

I don’t know about you, but I go through a bunch of lettuce each year. At almost $2 per head, that gets expensive. Here’s the great part: They are pretty easy to grow in any part of your garden. They even do well in flower boxes. A seed packet costs about $2.50 for the heirloom variety (which I highly recommend). If you harvest the outer leaves of the plant, it will easily last for several months. Lettuce is also a great vegetable to succession plant.

2. Bell peppers

Bell peppers are fairly expensive, especially for organic. I’ve seen them as high as $2 each! If you start your little seedlings ($2.50 per packet) in small pots, you’ll be able to transplant them to your garden in a few weeks. Pick the peppers as soon as they get to full size.

3. Garlic

This popular plant has a lot of health benefits. Garlic is used in all kinds of recipes. This is a vegetable that I have on hand at all times. Plant the garlic clove in the soil before winter; six to eight weeks before your first frost date. You’ll have a bumper crop in late spring to early summer.

Find your first, and last frost dates here.

4. Winter Squash … including PUMPKIN!

Winter Squash is getting more and more expensive. Butternut squash (one of my favorites for winter soup!) is $1.69 per pound with the average being at least 2 pounds. Keep in mind that winter squash takes between 75 and 120 days to reach maturity, and sprawl 10 to 20 feet. Think vertically or try the bush or semi-bush cultivars in a small garden. And winter squash will store well in a root cellar.

5. Tomatoes (especially Heirloom)

These babies have multi-colored, scarred skin, and a high price tag. They are about $4.50 per pound or more, depending on where you live. Now, while the price may break the bank, the taste is amazing! Growing heirloom tomatoes can be a bit fussy. I lost all of my seedlings this year, but happily planted a friend’s transplants. One of the biggest problems you’ll face is disease. Now, if you don’t want to face the heirloom issues, try a cherry tomato that grows well in your area. You’ll have a plethora of tomatoes to can or dehydrate.

6. Carrots

While I didn’t have much luck with tomatoes this year, I did have success with carrots! These are a cool-season crop that takes 70 to 80 days to mature. Check your last and first frost dates, plant three weeks before the last expected frost date and two to three months before the first fall frost date. They are a delicious root vegetable that stores well in a root cellar and is usually resistant to diseases and pests. At $2.50 per seed packet, you’ll have more than enough of this vegetable to last you through the winter.

7. Potatoes

Welcome to the most popular vegetable in America! Growing potatoes is fairly easy, and the flavors of a freshly dug potato cannot be rivaled by the $5.00 a bag, grocery-store varieties. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained, loose soil, so the roots and tubers have room to grow. They do need a steady water supply to keep the plants happy. When the tops of the plants die off, the entire crop is ready to harvest. And some potato varieties store well in a root cellar.

8. Sweet potatoes

In my area, organic sweet potatoes run about $4 for a 3-pound bag. It costs about $21 for 1 pack of sweet potato slips (though I have found them cheaper locally, so check your local garden center). Plant them in the spring, and they’ll produce about 3 to 6 sweet potatoes per slip. They prefer a slightly acidic, well-drained, loose soil. If there is a possibility of frost, cover them. Harvest in 100 days. Sweet Potatoes store well in a root cellar.

Did you see David the Good’s article on Growing Sweet Potatoes? Check it out here.

9. Zucchini, and other summer squash

My grandmother would be proud that zucchini made the list. It was one of her favorite veggies to cook. However, she wouldn’t be excited about the $1.90 per pound sticker price. If your garden area is small, go vertical! At $2.25 to $2.50 per packet, the zucchini plant will yield between three and nine pounds of yummy summer delights. Harvest when they are about 4-inches long.

10. Green beans

At the grocery store, organic green beans cost about $2.50 per pound. A packet of seeds costs $2.50 per packet. You’ll get between three to five pounds of beans PER plant. That’s a lot of beans to freeze, can, and boy are they yummy, dehydrated!

BONUS: Herbs … Basil, Rosemary, Parsley, Mint, Lavender

I didn’t want to leave out some herbs. All of these herbs are easy-to-grow. Each of them costs about $2.50 per plastic tub at the grocery store. Parsley is less at $1.00 per bundle. If you are considering your footprint on the Earth, the plastic containers and twist ties need to be taken into consideration. A seed packet of each will cost about $2.50 per packet. It’s well-worth having your own herb garden. I’d even suggest starting your gardening adventures here!


How to boost the abundance of your garden vegetables

Here are a few tricks to help you make the most of your vegetable garden, even if it’s small. It will save you money on food all-year-long.

Only Plant What You’ll Eat

This sounds may sound silly, but there is no point in planting green beans if you don’t like green beans. You’ll have pounds of garden vegetables that will just go to waste.

Also, take into consideration who in your family will eat the different veggies. If you’re the only one who will eat squash, don’t plant ten of them.

If you rarely eat something, it’s better to buy from your local farmer’s market.

Still confused? Here’s a downloadable interactive guide to help you decide what to plant. Print it out and keep it in your garden journal.

Succession Planting

Succession planting is after one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space. The length of your growing season, climate, and crop selection will determine how you will replant your favorite garden vegetables. In warm climates, you’ll be able to do several plantings of favorite garden vegetables, like tomatoes. In cooler climates, you’ll be able to get a second planting of peas.

If you have a small vegetable garden space, extend your harvest by planting different varieties of the same vegetable. You’ll have a crop early in the Spring, mid-summer, and fall. For instance, salad greens do well if you plant seeds each week, rather than all-at-once. This gives you the ability to harvest the outside leaves, while the other plants keep growing. You’ll have a supply of lettuce all season long!

Use the downloadable sheet (above) to determine how much to plant, for one person, for the most commonly grown vegetables. Don’t forget to include your succession plantings.

Coming Soon! Look for more articles on succession planting right here on this blog!

Which is your favorite garden vegetable? Is it cost-effective to grow it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.


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… On topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!

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The Simple Tricks To Regrow Onions

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(Length: 2:32 minutes)

On this edition of Homesteading Basics, I’m going to show you a really simple tip to regrow onions from the scraps.

Who doesn’t love onions?

I cook with onions, and we all know that when you’re getting ready to chop your onion, you cut the ends off. You cut off the top and the bottoms.

On that back end, where the roots are, you’ve got just a little bit of a scab. Here’s the tip: You can actually plant this, and it will regrow.

Take the scab of the onion. Put it in some dirt, and leave it there.

I’ve been doing this for the past couple of weeks. Look, you can see that some have already sprouted. Now, this is not going to make a whole new onion bulb, but rather beautifully small onion that looks a lot like a shallot. You can chop them up, and put them into soups and salads. They have that nice onion taste.

Another really great thing about this, they’ll become onion plants that sprout those big, beautiful allium flowers. They are very decorative.

This is a green that’s going to grow through the winter. The time to regrow onions is when it is moist and cool outside.

See…you’ll be able to get way more out of that onion than you first thought.

Other foods that you can grow from scabs

Simple and easy-to-regrow!

Place the root end in a jar of water and watch it regrow in a few days.  Just make sure to replace the water every couple of days or as needed.

  • Spring onions
  • Leeks
  • Scallions
  • Fennel

Smells so good!

  • Lemongrass

Regrow lemongrass exactly the same as the spring onions and leeks, but wait to harvest it until it is about 12 inches tall.

To the roots…

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger

Plant a small chunk of either ginger or turmeric in well-drained potting soil about two inches below the surface. Ginger and Turmeric like indirect sunlight in a warm, moist environment. The shoots and roots will begin to regrow in a few days. Once the plant is established, harvest by pulling up the whole plant, including the roots. Remove a piece off of that plant. Replant it to repeat the process or regrowing your ginger and turmeric.

  • Potatoes

Choose a potato that has a lot of good eyes. Cut it into 2-3 inch pieces. Each piece should have 1 to 2 eyes on it. Allow the cut pieces to sit at room temperature for a day or two. This will allow the cut areas to dry. Potato plants thrive on a high-nutrient environments, so be sure to add a lot of compost before planting your potatoes. Plant your potato pieces about 8 inches deep with the eye facing up. Cover the pieces with 4 inches of soil. Leave empty space above the 4 inches of soil. As your plant grows, you’ll add more soil.

Be aware! A lot of potatoes are Genetically Modified. Be sure you get your potatoes from a reputable source.

  • Sweet Potatoes

David the Good shows you how to grow and regrow sweet potatoes here.

How about some greens?

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Celery
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage

Cut the leaves or stalks off to about an inch above the roots. Place the root end in a shallow pot of well-drained soil. Make sure the roots are in the soil, but do not cover the rest of the plant.  Place the pot a sunny window and mist with water 1 to 2 times a week.


Boost Your Immune System

  • Garlic

Break a bulb apart a few days before planting. Leave the papery husk on the clove. (You can also plant garlic cloves in the ground before the ground freezes.) Plant a garlic clove 2 inches deep with the root-end down in well-drained soil. Sit the plant in a sunny window.  Once established, cut back the scapes (green part) and use for cooking. This forces the plant to produce a garlic bulb.

And don’t forget the fruits…

  • Pineapple

Cut off the leafy top about half an inch below the leaves. Twist the leaf away from the base. You’ll be left with the leaves and a stub. Remove the lowest set of leaves until you see roots. The roots look like small, brown-colored bumps around the stem. Plant your pineapple crown in warm and well-drained soil. Water your plant regularly. Don’t be afraid to water the leaves. They are meant to catch water. The roots should be established in about a month or two. Put your pineapple plant in bright, indirect light.

Of course, you can always plant onions:

Here’s a great article from Farmer’s Almanac!

Do you grow or regrow onions? What about other fruits or vegetables? Tell us in the comments below!



Access our growing selection of Downloadable eBooks…

…On topics that include growing your own food, herbal medicine, homesteading, raising livestock, and more!


The post The Simple Tricks To Regrow Onions appeared first on The Grow Network.

What the Hell is a Yam?

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Getting to the Root of the Question

First off, let me explain how I arrived at the question, “What the hell is a yam?”  I’ve been on a little quest – to find the fabled yam.  I started this quest last week, knowing exactly what a yam was… or so I thought.

We’ve had several questions over the past few weeks about the confusion that exists around yams and sweet potatoes.  Seems that people are finding contradictory information on the internet, and several people asked us to help them sort things out.

So I thought it would be helpful to put together a simple article with some pictures, to show people how they can tell the difference between a sweet potato and a yam.  That couldn’t be too hard, right?  They’re two different plants.  To be honest, I thought this would be as easy as making two short bulleted lists – voila, problem solved.

That was last week.

I gathered up the facts about sweet potatoes first.  That was pretty easy, just like I expected.  So I quickly moved on to start gathering up the same facts about yams…

And here I sit, days later – my mind tied into a knot by knotty roots.  I set out in search of a few simple facts, and that search led me on a whirlwind tour of world history with more sidebars and tangents than you can imagine.

And so, as I sit here today, I can only ask, “What the hell is a yam?”

Read more: How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

The Mysterious Origins of The Word “Yam”

It’s widely agreed that African Americans started calling sweet potatoes “yams” when soft, orange varieties of sweet potatoes were introduced in the southern United States.  Prior to this time, a firm variety of sweet potato had been popular.  Supposedly, the new softer sweet potatoes reminded African Americans of the yams they knew from Africa, and so they started calling orange sweet potatoes yams – to differentiate between the old firm sweet potatoes and the new soft sweet potatoes.

That’s a convenient explanation, but on closer inspection it doesn’t make sense, since yams weren’t called yams in most West African languages.  They were called isu, ji, viazi vikuu, and other names from African languages.

Some argue that the name “yam” was adapted from Portuguese or Spanish words, and it is possible that the name did travel across the Atlantic on a slave ship – in the mouths of the traders, and not the slaves.

If you check out Webster’s Dictionary, you’ll find that there’s probably some degree of truth to both explanations.  They claim the origin of the word “yam” is nyami, which means “to eat” in the Fulani language, which was spoken in West Africa during the slave trade (and today) by people who ate (and still eat) yams.  The word nyami was adapted to inhame in Portuguese and ñame in Spanish, and then later to igname in French and eventually to yam in American English.  So, while yams have been cultivated around the world for ten thousand years, the word “yam” has only been around for the last few hundred years.

However it came into existence, the word “yam” today can mean many things.  In a global food market in 2016, saying the word “yam” is about as descriptive as saying the word “root.”  There might be 20 different things for sale in that market that are called by the name “yam.”  What you get will depend entirely upon whom you ask.

Make Potato Pasta: 8 Ways to Enjoy Wholesome Noodles

What the Hell is a Yam?  It Depends…

Ask an American for a yam, and you’ll probably get a sweet potato.  Ask a New Zealander, and you’ll probably get a root from the wood sorrel known as oca.  Ask an African, and you’ll probably get an actual yam.

If you make the mistake of asking a Japanese person, you might get any one of several different plants – a sweet potato, an actual yam, an Okinawan purple yam (which is actually a sweet potato), or a third plant that’s also known as the konjac.  As I said before, the word “yam” doesn’t really mean much.

If you ask a Mexican person for a yam, there’s a chance you’ll get jicama, which is also known as yam bean.  This plant has another, even more confusing, common name – it is also known as the Chinese potato, even though it is native to America and probably didn’t find its way to China until after the Spanish conquest of Central America.  In addition to not being Chinese, jicama is also not a potato. Then again, a sweet potato isn’t really a potato either.

Ask a Pacific Islander for a yam, and you might get taro root.  Taro is also known as yam in Southern Spain, and in some Portuguese-speaking countries as well.  And the word “taro” could cause you some additional confusion in West Africa, the home of the yam, where taro is commonly known as coco yam.

Finding the Fabled Yam

Of course, there is in fact such a thing as a true yam.  But it’s definitely not as easy to pin down as the sweet potato is.  All sweet potatoes belong to one species.  So while there are hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes, they are all the same plant – Ipomea batatas.

Not so with the yam.  There are at least 8 species of yam that are cultivated for culinary use in the world today.  They all belong to the same genus, Dioscorea.

So, right off the bat, you can’t really do a clean comparison of yams versus sweet potatoes.  The sweet potato is one plant, and the yam is a big family of related plants.

Meet the Yam Family

And the yam family doesn’t stop with those 8 culinary species – not by a long shot.  Those are just the tip of the iceberg.

Yams grow wild all around the world.  There are over 600 accepted species in the genus Dioscorea.  They predate humans by about 75 million years, and they have a representative on every continent except Antarctica.

There are some native, edible yams that grow wild right here in North America.  Fourleaf yam (Dioscorea quaternata), and the wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) are native across the Eastern United States and were used as food sources by the Native Americans there.

Mansplaining Yams and Sweet Potatoes

If you look for information about yams vs sweet potatoes on the internet, you’ll find a million comparisons that say things like “sweet potatoes have smooth skin and yams have rough skin,” and “sweet potatoes are more moist than yams.”  Of course, if you’re only holding one or the other, you don’t have anything to compare it against, and this isn’t very much help.

And much of the information that’s out there is targeted at the average American grocery store consumer.  So, the overall message you’ll find is something like this, “People in America call sweet potatoes ‘yams.’  Yams are from Africa, and we don’t have yams in America; we only have sweet potatoes.”

That’s sort of right, but it’s sort of wrong too.  It assumes that you are someone who would never shop in an ethnic market or a specialty food store; someone who would never forage for wild food; and someone who would never take a random root from the farmers market and plop it in the dirt just to see what happens – and I think I know you better than that.

What the hell is a yam?  Not this - this is a sweet potato.

What the hell is a yam? Not this – this is a sweet potato.

We’re an American Yam!

We do have yams in America.  Actual, true Dioscorea yams.  In the age of the internet and the sustainable farming revolution – you better believe that there are yams in America.  You want a yam?  I can get you a yam by Tuesday…

In addition to the wild yams that are native to America, culinary yams have been grown here, and continue to be grown here – in small volumes by independent growers.

All the way back in 1896, Robert Henderson Price referred to sweet yam (Dioscorea sativa) being grown in Georgia and Florida.  He also referred to Chinese yam (Dioscorea polystachya) being imported from France to the US around 1850.  That yam had been acquired by the French Consul in Shanghai, while France was trying to find alternative crops to respond to the potato blight in 1848.

In 2009, the USDA reported on 5 species of yams that are considered foreign invasive species in the US – some of which were brought here as food crops.

And in addition to actual yams, there are many other things that might be sold as “yams” that are not truly yams.

More about the potato blight of 1848: Monocultures

Eating Versus Growing

If you are the “average American grocery store consumer,” then the confusion about yams shouldn’t be a problem for you.  You buy your sweet potatoes at the grocery store, cook them, and eat them.  Who cares if they’re labeled as yams?

But it’s a little more complicated for the home grower.

In most of North America, making the mistake of planting Dioscorea yams instead of sweet potatoes could cost you your whole harvest.  Most of the culinary yams have a growing season that is too long for our climate, and they will freeze before they yield.

Many people enjoy eating their sweet potatoes raw.  But most true yams shouldn’t be eaten raw.  Some contain toxins, and most contain bitter compounds, so yams are typically soaked or boiled before consumption.

Sweet potatoes also offer more nutrition than yams – so even if you’re in a tropical region where you could grow yams, it probably makes more sense for you to use your precious garden space for sweet potatoes.

So do a little due diligence before you plant, and make sure that you know what you’re putting in the ground.  How will you know?  The best approach is probably to get your planting material from a source that uses the Latin botanical names for their plants.

In fact, the only person who ever gets a clear answer to the question “What the hell is a yam?” is the botanist.

Read more: Which Spud is Superior? White Potato vs Sweet Potato

Latin, the Universal Language

In the hypothetical global food market we talked about above, there was potentially a lot of confusion about what a yam is.  The word “yam” can mean one thing in New Zealand, a different thing in Japan, and yet another thing in Polynesia.  It’s confusing all around the world.

But the botanist has no problem.  She can ask a Chinese vendor for Dioscorea sativa, and she’ll know that the root she receives is the same plant she gets when she asks a Mexican vendor for Dioscorea sativa.  Problem solved.  

And it will work just as well for sweet potatoes.  Request Ipomea batatas anywhere in the world, and what you get will be a sweet potato.



1: The origin and evolution of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas Lam.) and its wild relatives through the cytogenetic approaches.;jsessionid=016E4C6C53AD973BF8DA3ADC090A514C?doi=
2: Library of Congress, What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? USDA SNAP-Ed Connection, Sweet Potatoes and Yams.
4: Wiener, Leo. Africa and the Discovery of America, Volume 1. Innes & Sons 1920. Philadelphia.
5: Price, R. H. Sweet Potato Culture for Profit. Texas Farm and Ranch Publishing Company 1896. Dallas.
6: USDA Plant Profile: Dioscorea.
7: U.S. Forest Service: Discorea spp.
8: The Congo Cookbook: Yam.
9: Wikipedia: Sweet Potato.
10: Wikipedia: Yam (vegetable).
11: Wikipedia: Taro.

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How to Plant Sweet Potatoes

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Plant Sweet Potatoes from Slips, Vines, or Roots

If you live in a good climate for growing them, you should plant sweet potatoes every year.  They’re one of the easiest vegetables to grow.

Here’s how I plant my sweet potatoes.

Step 1: Get Your Planting Material!

This isn’t hard. Sometimes your local feed store or nursery will sell “slips,” which are just rooted segments of vines. This is a really easy way to get started, but if you have a little more time you can make your own sweet potato slips like I teach you here.

You can also simply buy a bag of sweet potatoes and start burying them in the garden… or take chunks of vine off an existing plant and start plunking the stems a few inches deep into the ground.

Plant sweet potatoes from the pantry

Rachel broke this chunk off a sweet potato in the pantry. It’s perfect.

I’ve done all of the above with good success. Think of them like ivy: they root easily at every node. Water them for a couple of weeks and they’ll take off.

Generally, we eat most of the big sweet potatoes through the winter and keep a basket of the smaller ones for planting in the spring. It doesn’t matter that they’re small. Unlike individual fruit or vegetables, the sweet potatoes we harvest all contain the exact same genes as the big ones we ate, so there’s not a problem with “selecting” for tiny roots.

No room for sweet potatoes?  Check this out: Balcony Gardening – Big Food Production in Small Spaces

Step 2: Prep Your Bed

You don’t have to worry too much about preparation for sweet potatoes. Loose, loamy soil is great… but they’ll also grow in so-so sand without many complaints.

Plant sweet potatoes from tubers

The vines are shorter on this sweet potato so Rachel planted the entire root.

We grew this particular round of sweet potatoes in a bed where we planted white potatoes the year before. You don’t have to worry about sweet potatoes and white potatoes sharing diseases – they aren’t even remotely related species.

That said, after pulling white potatoes the year before, I covered the area in fall with a mixture of rye and lentils as a green manure cover crop.

Here’s what it looked like before I busted out the tiller:

Potato bed with rye and lentil cover crops

Cover crops add nutrition to the soil and keep it “alive” between plantings.

I dug three trenches about 4′ apart after tilling, then we planted the sweet potatoes at 4′ apart down the trenches.

Plant sweet potatoes from vines

Rachel covered this piece of vine with dirt all the way up to the leaves.

We get plenty of sweet potatoes from our gardens each year, and we wouldn’t want to be without them.

Infographic: Which Spud is Superior? White Potato vs Sweet Potato

Step 3: Water Well… and Stand Back!

Sweet potatoes will take off in warm weather and need little to no irrigation in years with decent rainfall. They also tend to run over most weeds and control the area where you plant them… and the areas around the garden… and some areas beyond that. I have them coming up 20′ from where I planted them last year. My kind of plant.

Plant sweet potatoes from old plants

This sweet potato yielded at least five good slips for planting.

If you haven’t planted your sweet potatoes yet, it’s time to get going as soon as the danger of frost has passed. If you have a long enough warm season, you can start one bed then use it to start a second, as I do in this video:

As a final note – sweet potatoes make a great ground cover for food forests, especially in the more tropical areas of Florida where they’ll grow year round. As a bonus, the longer you leave them in the ground… the bigger the roots tend to get.

Sweet potatoes are easy to grow and easy to plant. Get to it!


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DIY Awesomeness – The World’s Best Ultra-Athletes Grow Their Own Energy Drinks

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Pinole – The Preferred Drink of the Tarahumara

If you’ve been following along with Marjory’s adventure to visit the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, you’ve probably already heard about pinole. This is an ancient drink made of ground corn that originated with the Aztecs and spread throughout Central and South America.

The Tarahumara use this drink as an energy drink – it fuels their epic long runs across the jagged terrain of the Copper Canyon. The drink also makes you feel full, even if you haven’t eaten, which is convenient when you’re running for 12 hours straight without stopping to eat.

Marjory brought this video back from her trip to Mexico, and you can see a 71 year old man demonstrating rarájipari, the traditional Tarahumara game of kicking a rock ball down a trail. One week before this was filmed, this man completed a 72 kilometer race, overnight. Check it out:

Traveling to Meet the Tarahumara

Marjory kept a journal of her entire trip to Mexico and she’s sharing the story here. You can see lots of beautiful photographs, and read all about the Tarahumara way of life, including how they grow their own food and medicine, in her story Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarahumara Indians.

There will be more information about pinole during this year’s Home Grown Food Summit. The summit will be hosted online next month from March 7th to March 13th. If you receive the [Grow] Network’s free email newsletter, then you’re already registered for this free event! If you still need to register, you can sign up here: 2016 Home Grown Food Summit.


DIY Awesomeness – The World’s Best Ultra-Athletes Grow Their Own Energy Drinks

Click here to view the original post.

Pinole – The Preferred Drink of the Tarahumara

If you’ve been following along with Marjory’s adventure to visit the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, you’ve probably already heard about pinole. This is an ancient drink made of ground corn that originated with the Aztecs and spread throughout Central and South America.

The Tarahumara use this drink as an energy drink – it fuels their epic long runs across the jagged terrain of the Copper Canyon. The drink also makes you feel full, even if you haven’t eaten, which is convenient when you’re running for 12 hours straight without stopping to eat.

Marjory brought this video back from her trip to Mexico, and you can see a 71 year old man demonstrating rarájipari, the traditional Tarahumara game of kicking a rock ball down a trail. One week before this was filmed, this man completed a 72 kilometer race, overnight. Check it out:

Traveling to Meet the Tarahumara

Marjory kept a journal of her entire trip to Mexico and she’s sharing the story here. You can see lots of beautiful photographs, and read all about the Tarahumara way of life, including how they grow their own food and medicine, in her story Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarahumara Indians.

There will be more information about pinole during this year’s Home Grown Food Summit. The summit will be hosted online next month from March 7th to March 13th. If you receive the [Grow] Network’s free email newsletter, then you’re already registered for this free event! If you still need to register, you can sign up here: 2016 Home Grown Food Summit.


How to Use Squash Pits for Bigger Garden Yields

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What is a Squash Pit?

If you’ve already read David the Good’s book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, then you might already be familiar with his ideas about “melon pit composting.” In this video, Marjory adapts his idea to create a rich planting bed for squash this spring.

You can learn more about this simple method for increasing your veggie production, and lots of other cool, innovative ideas from David the Good, during the upcoming Home Grown Food Summit. During the summit, David is presenting his new “feature film” Extreme Composting – The Movie.

If you’re already a member of the [Grow] Network, then you’re already signed up for the event! So keep an eye on our newsletter each Tuesday and Friday for upcoming announcements. If you don’t receive our newsletters, you can sign up for the Home Grown Food Summit here: Register Now


3 Types of Tarahumara Indian Corn and How They Are Used

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3 Indian Corns with 3 Different Uses

Marjory brought this video back from Mexico. Look at these 3 different corns – they’re beautiful! These are grown by the Tarahumara, off-grid, with goat manure fertilizer. Corn is super important to the Tarahumara – it’s one of their key staples.

The Tarahumara are known as exceptional runners, and they enjoy exceptional health. The area where the Tarahumara live has been called a “cold spot” because of unusually low rates of modern chronic diseases (including diabetes). A big part of the reason for their good health is because they grow almost all of their own food.

Marjory chronicled her entire trip to Mexico and she’s sharing the story here. You can read all about the way the Tarahumara tribe lives, including how they grow their own food and medicine, in her story Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarahumara Indians


Growing Cole Crops – Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and More

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Everything You Need to Know About Growing Cole Crops (or Brassicas)

We’ve had good luck with Brassicas this year, for the most part. At this time of year they’re one of the few things we can harvest. This is especially true in my garden this year. We’re just getting back into the swing of things after taking a few months off. So, every little thing we can harvest is much appreciated right now.

We haven’t put much effort into any of the Brassicas. We sprayed Bt once (a couple of ounces in a handheld spray bottle), applied a little fertilizer, and applied seaweed twice when the temperature got very low.

And we covered/uncovered the plants a few times. The recommended time window for transplanting Brassicas in our region just opened, but we got an early start. Which meant we had to cover the plants with floating row cover a few times on very cold nights. No big deal.

We’re glad we started early because broccoli, cauliflower, and kale have been finding their way to the table – and a few cabbages are close behind. We stagger the planting dates for Brassicas for a slow but steady harvest, so we’ve started a few rounds already, and we’ll do one or two more plantings before it gets too hot and the harlequin bugs arrive to wipe them out.

Strong Seedlings – Broccoli, Cauliflower, and Cabbage

We had taken a few months off from actively gardening, while we focused on a more important project. During the downtime, I made some changes to the beds and pathways, and revitalized the soil with compost tea and some other goodies.

Then, as soon as we finished planting in the fall, our little garden got hit with a torrential downpour and most of the direct-seeded seedlings were drowned. I was out of town but my wife described it to me over the phone like this, “There’s a waterfall in the garden! Oh no, there are many waterfalls in the garden!”

Calendula, lettuce, spinach, and beets all disappeared. But the Brassicas hung in there and they ended up doing just fine. Plants really win me over when they overcome adversity and/or neglect and then go on to flourish – especially when they feed my family. I love tough plants!


Fresh Broccoli Growing in the Garden

Easy Gardening with Cole Crops

While I was reading through some information about Brassicas, I came across this helpful PDF from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service at Texas A&M:

Read and/or Download the Original PDF File here: Easy Gardening – Cole Crops

This document contains some good information about all the basics you need to know for growing Brassicas. And it’s oriented toward the home grower. Some of you may be thinking, “It’s crazy to be talking about cabbage right now – there’s snow on the ground.”

Of course, the varieties mentioned, the planting dates recommended, and some of the pests mentioned are all very region-specific. You should seek out planting dates and recommended varieties from your local extension service.

A Fresh Market Grower’s Guide to Growing Cole Crops

This guide is from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. This document is oriented to the market grower, rather than the small-scale home gardener.

Read and/or Download the Original PDF File here: Growing Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, and Other Cole Crops in Wisconsin – A Guide for Fresh-Market Growers

Now, here we’re on the other end of the spectrum in terms of planting dates. Just as it would be crazy to transplant broccoli in Wisconsin on February 1st, it would also be crazy to transplant broccoli in Texas on June 1st. Talk to your local extension service about planting dates – or use historical average temperatures for your area to make an educated guess.

This publication is definitely oriented towards a larger growing operation – it’s meant for farms instead of gardens. But there’s some great information here about growing conditions, and some in-depth information about pests and diseases. And there’s an extensive “Additional Reading” list at the end.

Controlling Pest and Disease in Brassicas (or Cole Crops)

When it comes to dealing with pests and diseases, you have to “pick your poison,” so to speak. According to the Texas A&M publication, for example, you can deal with aphids by using pyrethrins – or garlic juice. In the Wisconsin publication you can deal with black rot by using calcium hypochlorite – or hot water.

Generally, try to choose the mildest solution you can find, unless your situation calls for something more drastic. In a small garden, you can probably control an aphid infestation with nothing more than a pressurized stream of water. Do some searching and you’ll likely find good solutions that are natural and sustainable.

And finally, when you’ve got pests or disease, your best course of action is usually to contact your local extension office. The specific pests and diseases you’re likely to have are much different depending on where you live. And the solutions that worked for someone in another area might not work well in your area. Your local extension service should be able to point you in the right direction – and then if you don’t like their recommendations, you can research more natural options on your own.

There is one thing that every source I checked agrees on – definitely use crop rotation when growing Brassicas. Brassicas are heavy feeders, and many of their pests and diseases are soil-borne. So rotate your Brassicas around the garden, and try not to use the same planting space again for several years.

Many thanks to Joseph Masabni, Assistant Professor and Extension Horticulturist; and Patrick Lillard, Extension Assistant, The Texas A&M System of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Many thanks to K.A. Delahaut, Horticulture Outreach Specialist for the Integrated Pest Management Program and A.C. Newenhouse, Horticulture Outreach Specialist for the Wisconsin Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension.


(Video) Everything You Need to Know about Saving Bean Seeds

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bean-plants-and-flowersThis video contains an abbreviated version of Seed Savers Exchange’s webinar on saving bean seeds. The video touches on lots of good information about growing, harvesting, and saving beans to replant the following season. The advice here is good for any legume, including common beans, peas, lima beans, cowpeas, fava beans, runner beans, and soybeans.

If you’ve ever had questions about when to take your beans, how to separate the beans from the pods, or how to store saved seeds – there’s some good information here to help you along.

I loved the example of a trellis shown in this clip, which is just a group of sticks tied together with twine. I’ve seen a million different attempts at trellises, but I often feel like the simplest trellises are the best looking and the most functional. This trellis is a great example.

Thanks to Seed Savers Exchange for the great video. You can learn more here: Seed Savers Exchange.


The Secret to a Long and Happy Life is in the Garden

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Dan Buettner wanted to find the secret of longevity. He traveled the world over, meeting and interviewing the world’s centenarians (people over 100) to learn the secret from those who could speak from experience. But when he pressed them for an answer most of them could not really say. One of them said with a shrug, “We just forget to die.” Too busy living to worry about dying.

These centenarians never thought of retiring. For some of them it was literally never a thought that crossed their mind. They didn’t even have a word for retirement. They were still herding sheep, milking goats, or tending their gardens. They all ate lots of vegetables, and most of them grew their own.

In the U.S., we have a fascination with youth and a fear of aging. These feelings are are not shared in some other cultures. Of a village in Sardinia, Italy, Buettner says, “On tavern walls, instead of posters of bikinied women or fast cars, you’d see calendars featuring the ‘Centenarian of the month.’”

Buettner says, “None of the 253 spry centenarians I’ve met went on a diet, joined a gym or took supplements.”

How is it that these people are still dancing when most people their age have returned to dust? Buettner put together a team to help him collect the data and facts as well as engage in personal visits so they could actually get to know these amazing people and translate what they learned into information that we can all use to keep us dancing right up to the moment the music stops.

Dan Buettner’s Recommendations for Longevity

After working on this project for seven years, Buettner boiled it down to the following recommendations:

1. Make exercise a part of your lifestyle rather than just doing exercise for its own sake.
2. Stop eating when you feel 80% full, because the feeling of fullness is delayed by 20 minutes.
3. Eat mainly plants.
4. Drink a little red wine daily — with moderation of course.
5. Have a goal in life — a reason to get up in the morning.
6. Slow down and have strategies for relieving stress.
7. Be part of a spiritual community.
8. Make your family members top priority.
9. Choose friends who encourage these positive values.

You can read the whole story in his book, The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

I am pleased to note that most, if not all, of these recommendations can be answered in the garden. We have healthy exercise, plenty of fresh vegetables, a reason to get up in the morning, and a place to forget stress for sure. Some things in the list might be answered indirectly – like growing red grapes to make wine, and having gatherings and family picnics in the garden.

Let’s take a closer look at the different recommendations and how you can fulfill them in your own garden:

Recommendation #1 – Exercise
Working in the garden is certainly exercise, but your choice of tools will make a big difference in how effective and enjoyable it is.

I have lately discovered the Meadow Creature broadfork. It’s an excellent tool for breaking up new ground and loosening the subsoil to make it retain more water. It’s perfect for exercise because you keep your back straight and use both arms and legs equally. You just step on the cross bar, sinking the tines into the ground, then lean back to cut through the soil. It loosens soil without turning it over. If the ground is very hard, keep it shallow on the first pass and then repeat until you get the tines all the way in — 12 to 16 inches, depending on which model you use. I feel such a sense of well-being after working with my broadfork that I wonder if I might be getting the grounding benefit called “earthing.” Even though I’m wearing shoes, my hands are on the metal handles and the tines are deep in the ground. Anybody out there have any ideas about that?

My broadfork obeys me perfectly, so it’s safe to use up close to plants, as long as I pay attention to what I’m doing. Not so with a rototiller, which I think has a mind of its own, and a cantankerous one at that. The broadfork is also quiet, undemanding, and maintenance free. Another favorite garden tool is the garden claw which also lets you keep your back straight while working. It has six tines in a square position at the bottom. You push down and twist. No more back-breaking work with these two tools.

Recommendation #2 – The 80% Rule — Stop Eating Before You Reach Full Capacity
Well, I’m afraid this one isn’t easier if you garden. It might actually be harder to stop eating, because your food all tastes so good. But then, you aren’t consuming empty calories, so I wouldn’t worry as much about this one. Just eat slowly, and stop before you’re full.

Recommendation #3 – Eat Mainly Plants
No problem! If you garden at home, there are plenty of fresh vegetables for the picking. And if you plan your garden well, you can keep the fresh harvest coming almost all year long in many areas.

Recommendation #4 – Drink a Little Red Wine
Most of us rely on the grocery store or another retailer to supply us with red wine. But if you’re an adventurous gardener, you could consider planting a grapevine along the edge of your garden. This would provide you fresh grapes to work with, and it might even provide some additional exercise if you crush the grapes traditionally – with your feet. However you get your red wine – always drink it in moderation.

Recommendation #5 – Have a Reason to Get Up in the Morning
There’s no place like the garden in the early morning. What an inspiring place to be! Avid gardeners are heavily invested in their gardens, and so they always have a reason to climb out of bed and go out to the garden to survey their progress, preen their plants, and plan for upcoming projects.

It’s true that a garden can become very unsightly and discouraging if bugs and weeds take over. So, always keep the size of your garden small enough to maintain it in good condition, and continue adding new seeds and plants so that you have constant, vigorous growth. Yes, let some of your plants go to seed for flowers and nectar for the good guys (pollinators and insect predators), but keep planting new things, too, so that the garden stays beautiful all season long.

Gardens can also be very expensive, especially if you opt to purchase soil, fertilizers, and pest sprays. One way to keep costs under control is to learn the principles of permaculture. Permaculture seeks to mimic nature and always tries to minimize external inputs (like store-bought soil). The word “permaculture” (combining “permanent” and “culture”) and the basic principles behind it have been around since the 1970s, but some of the concepts are quite ancient.

a-guild-of-lettuce-radishes-and-beetsOne of the ideas in permaculture is to create groupings of plants that aid and protect one another. These plant groupings are referred to as guilds. And emphasis is placed on using plants that attract pollinators and other “good guy” insect predators. The “three sisters” is a great example of a guild, invented by Native Americans. They planted corn, beans, and squash near each other. The corn stalks act as a trellis for the beans. The bean plants fix nitrogen in the soil. And the squash plant acts as a mulch, shading the ground and keeping the soil moist.

When you plant large groups of the same thing, you make it easy for the nibbling insects that eat in your garden. Instead of having to forage for food, they get to shop at the supermarket. If we take a cue from nature, and plant a variety of different plants together, we have a better chance to outsmart those pests.

a-guild-of-lettuce-beets-and-radishesI have not tried the “three sisters” yet, but I have learned that beets, radishes, and lettuce work well together. You do need to give a little extra attention to the beets, to make sure the other plants don’t overwhelm them. Here the radish has shaded the lettuce, and some bugs have eaten the radish leaves instead of eating the lettuce. This worked out great for me, since I wasn’t planning to eat the radish leaves anyway.

One experiment I did was to stop spraying for insects because spraying kills the good guys, too. This summer, when I was watering and something jumped out of the foliage, it was often a small frog or toad rather than a grasshopper or cricket. You don’t eliminate all the pests, and believe it or not, you don’t want to. If all of the pests disappear, there won’t be any food left for the good guys, and they will disappear too. I must confess, though, that the cabbage caterpillar was just too much and I had to resort to using Dipel. I don’t mind so much when insects stop by for a snack, but when they move right in to stay and leave garbage behind, I just can’t help myself.

open-pollinated-grape-tomatoesThis year I was excited to have an “open pollinated grape tomato” (that’s the only name I have) come up prolifically. I did nothing for them except grow them last year. This year I didn’t plant, water, fertilize, or spray for disease or bugs. I didn’t even pull weeds or keep the tomatoes picked. The plants came up through the weeds and grass, grew up over the top of the the weeds or climbed on anything available, without being tied. Other tomatoes had a hard time this year – it was too wet, then too dry, and the bugs were bad. But there was no problem at all for those little grape tomatoes. I could pick what I wanted, whenever I wanted, all summer long. And they kept right on growing until the first frost. They are bite-sized with superb flavor, perfect for salads and snacking. I would love to hear if anyone else has a favorite garden plant that takes care of itself like this. The picture here was taken in November, so the tomatoes had slowed down quite a bit. But you can see how they still held their own above the weeds and grass.

Recommendation #6 – Slow Down and De-Stress
Gardening is a great stress-reliever for gardeners of all ages. For many of us, the garden is a place we go to unwind and bond with nature. If you have a garden in your yard, you always have a place nearby to regroup and collect your thoughts when life gets difficult and stressful.

If you’re already feeling tranquil, just go out and smell the flowers. Want to punch somebody? Attack the weeds instead. This works better than a punching bag, you will love the results, and there are no regrets!

Walking barefoot on bare earth or grass also helps to reduce stress. We actually do run on electricity, and we benefit greatly from grounding. This is called “earthing.”

Recommendation #7 – Be Part of a Spiritual Community
Recommendation #8 – Make Family Members a Priority
Recommendation #9 – Choose Friends Who Encourage These Positive Values

Some people get a strong spiritual reward from gardening, and for others it’s all about the food. Some families garden together, while some gardeners have families that prefer to stay indoors. Some people garden alone, while others are active in local gardening clubs and community gardens.

What’s important here is to acknowledge that people need people. So, you might need to consider leaving your garden for these last three.

Community gardens are a great way that you can use your love of gardening to connect with others. Even if you already have your own garden at home, adopting a plot in a community garden will put you in touch with other like-minded people in your area. Local gardening groups and clubs are another great way to connect with others who share your love of gardening.

If your family and friends aren’t interested in gardening with you, leave your garden and meet them on their ground. You can always bring some of the wonderful flowers and food from your garden along, to share with your closest loved ones.

Gardening Your Way to a Long, Happy Life

I think the time has come to consider returning to some of the forgotten ways of our ancestors, which were just as effective, and often more efficient, than the way we do things now. Permaculture can be an exhaustive subject, but there are many new books available that translate the concepts into use for the home garden. This opens many vistas for continued learning and keeps our minds alert. Some of my favorite authors on the subject are Anna Hess, Toby Hemenway, and Christopher Shein.

Growing your own food gives you such a sense of satisfaction when you walk through the grocery store. The food there is bland and it lacks nutrition, but you notice the prices going up and up. Instead of wringing your hands and wondering how long you’ll be able to feed your family, you can feel wealthy – knowing that the most delicious, most nutritious food is already at home.

Go to your garden for health and long life. There you will find your medicines and your supplements. And these don’t need to be kept out of the reach of children. Instead of harmful side effects, they have wonderful, live-giving benefits.

sunflowers-in-bloomThe garden provides more than just fresh produce. There is an energy exchange — a symbiotic relationship between people and plants. It’s obvious when you think of the oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, but there is so much more. We were meant to be in a garden. The beautiful sights, the pleasant fragrances, and the songs of birds have a calming, healing influence on us. We take care of the garden, and it takes care of us.

Life began in a garden and it still flourishes there. The bible tells us that even Jesus sought solace in the garden. He went there to commune with His Father, and to gain strength for His supreme hour of testing.

The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than any place else on earth.

– Dorothy Frances Gurney


How to Make Spice from Corncob Ashes, Buffalo Bird Woman Style

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burning-corncobs-corncob-spiceIf you’re interested in three sisters gardening (beans, corn, and squash) the most comprehensive book on this subject is Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden: Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians, which is translated from an older Hidatsa Indian woman named Buffalo Bird Woman.

Buffalo Bird Woman (Maxi’diwiac Waheenee) lived from 1839 to 1932. Hmm, that made her life 93 years long, now there is some longevity. Buffalo Bird Woman was a Hidatsa who lived the traditional life of her people in what is now the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She learned and practiced all the traditional Hidatsa skills of growing, preparing, and preserving food. In spite of the many changes in that period of time, Buffalo Bird Woman upheld the traditional ways of her culture. And through this book, her stories and teachings are still available to us today. I was also fascinated by descriptions of the lives and work of women in Hidatsa culture.

I’m a huge fan of the simplicity and elegance of using the three sisters in the garden and I’ve been planting various versions for many years. LOL, initially a lot of my attempts weren’t really that productive. Reading Buffalo Bird Woman’s account really gave me some insights into what I had done wrong, and it has helped me become much more successful.

One thing the book mentions is how Buffalo Bird Woman made an interesting spice from the ashes of corncobs. This year I had a pretty good crop of corn so I decided to give it a try. After shucking, I kept the cobs to try to make the spice myself just to see what it tasted like.

hot-corncob-ashes-corncob-spiceI decided to build the fire on a piece of sheet metal so that collecting the ashes would be easier. I didn’t need that much tinder as lighting corncobs straight from a bic was pretty easy to do.

From the descriptions in the book, I gather that Buffalo Bird Woman actually burned huge piles of cobs – so separating the ashes out was probably a lot easier for them. I didn’t have that huge of a crop. I was actually a bit worried I didn’t have enough cobs to burn. I had two or three big baskets of cobs. But it turned out that was plenty.

Without too much work the cubs burned completely burned down to ashes. I let them cool. And then it was time for the taste test!

It was a little bit strange. It does have a salt-like taste but also another little zing to it. I can’t say I really liked it.

But in retrospect, I am not sure I would like some of our other spices if I hadn’t grown up with them being added to my food since I was a baby.

I wanted to give the spice the ‘ultimate taste test,’ so I asked my family what they thought of it.

My husband diplomatically said, “Well Hon, if I lived in North Dakota and didn’t have access to salt or any other spices, I would probably think this was good.”

My kids weren’t so diplomatic. They responded with “Yuck,” and “maybe not, Mom.”

What Did the Tarahumara Indians Think of this Spice?

corn cob spice in a jarI’ve recently come back from a trip to the Copper Canyons of Mexico, where I spent time with the Tarahumara Indians. I asked several of the groups of Tarahumara Indians I met if they ever made the spice or used it. They said “no” they didn’t make it, but they’d heard of it and were curious about it too. It seems that the Tarahumara had good access to salt and other spices, so they didn’t feel any pressure to make their own spices.

Well I’m keeping a stash of it in a small jar in the spice cabinet and I plan on dipping into it every now and then to see if it’s one of those things that “grows on you.” But honestly, I’m really not sure how I would use this in any of the recipes that I normally cook.

If you have any experiences with this, or any suggestions, by all means please drop me a comment down below. I would love to hear from you. Marjory


Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

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prickly-pear-cactus-opuntiaDrought. A chilling term for a period of less than average rainfall, usually accompanied by times of hot, dry, and often windy conditions. It is enough to drive any gardener stark raving mad. That is, of course, unless you have knowledge of some simple drought gardening techniques.

In the first installment of this series, I covered what steps you can take in your current garden to help make your normal plants more able to tolerate a drought. We also looked at a few simple tips and suggestions for your garden, and a selection of good varieties of common garden favorites for the drought-tolerant garden. In this installment, we will look at some rather unusual edibles for your drought-resistant garden.

Edible Cacti

The first group of genuinely drought-tolerant plants we will focus on are very good desert plants that grow and thrive in the 115 degree temperatures of the great American southwest. Many plant species, such as those in the family Cactaceae (better known as the cactus or cacti family), have developed adaptations like reduced leaf area and waxy cuticles to enhance their ability to tolerate drought. An interesting note about cacti is that the needles of the cactus are actually specialized leaves, and the green is the stem. In cacti the green stem, and not the leaves, is where photosynthesis takes place.

Almost all cacti are edible or have edible bits and pieces, though some taste good while others are downright nasty! I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona, and my early twenties in the far southern parts of Arizona near the town of Nogales, on the Mexican border. I learned to really love the beauty, hardiness, and ease of the cacti I found growing all around me. One thing I learned was that cactus, like many other plants, go by a ton of different names depending on where you are in the world. This is often confusing when trying to find the exact species you wish to plant. One cactus of which I am very fond is called the ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ but is also known by at least 14 other names such as Deer-Horn Cactus, Night-Blooming Cereus, Sweet Potato Cactus, and so forth. This is the case with many plants, but when you are looking at cacti with the thought of eating it, you better use the scientific name or you might get one that looks like the right thing but has a taste that makes you ill! ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ if you have the correct variety, has the tastiest fruit around, almost strawberry-like in its flavor and texture. But if you end up with the wrong variety of ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ the fruit you get will taste like…

… Well the only way I can describe the horrid taste of other varieties is to say that it would taste much like what you would think a child’s dirty diaper would taste. That is a vast difference in taste! So, in what follows I will use the scientific names so that when you go to find these you will get the exact cactus you have read about! Fair Warning: Lots of Latin scientific names below!

prickly-pear-fruit-at-marketThe most well know edible cactus is the Opuntia, or the prickly pear. Many Opuntia species of varying sizes produce edible fruits, many more than just the popular Opuntia stenocereus. In fact, the truth is that all cactus fruit is edible, but not all are as palatable as the stenocereus. Some are truly delicious, while others are tasteless, dry, or otherwise not very pleasing to eat. Even the tasty ones require some careful work before you can eat them – they have to be de-spined!

One of the more commonly planted large cacti in Florida and California is Cereus repandus, which produces large red edible fruit. Several species of Hylocereus are also very popular – these likely originated in southeast Asia and China, where they have become extremely popular with the indigenous populations. These cacti, though, are very cold-sensitive and can only be grown well in USDA zone 10, in USDA zone 9 with some extra effort, and in USDA zone 8 if you really, really work at it or during severe drought with hotter- and dryer-than-normal conditions. Some very large cacti that produce edible fruit include the Saguaro, or Carnegia gigantea, as well as the Cardon, or Pachycereus pringlei. Two other species of Pachycereus also produce tasty edible fruit – P. schottii (commonly known as Senita), and P. weberi (commonly known as Candelabro).

Getting a headache from all of this Latin yet? Me too, but let’s go on!

I know from personal experience that the fruits of Pachycereus schottii are very tasty; this species is very large. Most literature does not say how large the Pachycereus species must be before flowering, but the Saguaros usually have to be quite large and rather old as well, about 10-12 feet tall and some 30 years old before they will flower, and remember until they flower they will not fruit!

The Arizona queen of the night, Peniocereus greggii (mentioned above), and some other species of such as Peniocereus johnstonii and Pachycereus serpentinus, are also producers of truly tasty edible fruit. Smaller related cacti of the genus Echinocereus are famous for their fruit too, a number of species being known as “strawberry cactus” because of their strawberry (and sometimes almost raspberry) flavored red or green fruit. The most notable of these are Echinocereus engelmannii, E. bonkerae, E. boyce-thompsonii, E. enneacanthus, E. cincerascens, E. stramineus, E. dasyacanthus, E. fendleri, and E. fasciculatus; as well as some lesser-known species like Echinocereus brandegeei, E. ledingii, and E. nicholii. Echinocereus engelmannii’s flavor has been described as “strawberry and vanilla.”

Wow! That’s a load of Latin! Ready for just a little bit more? Here we go…

Among the smaller cacti, a number of species of Mammillaria produce edible fruits known as “chilitos” (they look like tiny red chili peppers) and the species include Mammillaria applanata, M. meiacantha, M. macdougalii, M. lasiacantha, M. grahamii, M. oliviae, M. mainiae, M. microcarpa, M. thornberi, and many others. Also recommended is a related genus, Epithelantha, of which the fruit of all species are said to be edible, tasty, and quite like those of the Mammillaria. Two more cacti with similar fruit are the Coryphantha robbinsorum and Coryphantha recurvata.

A commonly found cactus in many garden centers is Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which grows quite large; it produces edible berries known as “garambulos” which are said to be quite tasty, rather like less-acidic cranberries. Another genus of large cacti is Stenocereus, almost all species of which produce fruits good enough to eat. They include Stenocereus fricii (“Pitayo de aguas”), S. griseus (“Pitayo de Mayo”), S. gummosus (“Pitahaya agria”, said to be quite sweet but prone to fermentation, hence the “agria,” or “sour”), S. pruinosus (“Pitayo de Octubre”), S. montanus (“Pitaya colorada”), S. queretaroensis (“Pitaya de Queretaro”), S. standleyi (“Pita Marismena”), S. stellatus (“Xoconostle”), S. thurberi “Organ Pipe Cactus” or “Pitayo Dulce”), and S. treleasi (“Tunillo”). The genus Harrisia of Florida and the Caribbean also produces edible fruits known as “Prickly Apples”, the endangered endemic Florida species Harrisia aboriginum, H. simpsonii, H. adscendens, H. fragrans, and H. eriophora standing out, although the fruits of all the Harrisia species are edible, including the Argentinian Harrisia balsanae.

What happened there? Now I’m overloaded with both Latin and Spanish!

Some of the barrel cacti such as Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Ferocactus histrix (“borrachitos”), and Ferocactus latispinus (“pochas”) also produce edible fruits and edible flower buds. Many species of South American Corryocactus (also known as Erdisia) produce tasty berry-like fruits, including Corryocactus brevistylis, Corryocactus pulquiensis, and Corryocactus erectus. The large South American complex of Echiopsis/Trichocereus includes a few species with edible fruit also, such as Echinocereus atacamensis (or Trichocereus atacamensis), Echinocereus/Trichocereus coquimbana and Echinocereus/Trichocereus schickendanzii. Epiphyllum, known as the “orchid cactus,” has one such species, Echinocereus anguliger (also called Phyllocactus darrahii), the fruits said to be much like gooseberries. Also like gooseberries are the fruits of the fairly well-known Pereskia aculeata – hence its common name “Barbados gooseberry.” Another Pereskia (which are primitive cacti, and in fact are leaf-bearing trees or shrubs), Pereskia guamacho, also produces edible fruits.

There are no doubt many, many others as well, and if I have missed one of your favorite cacti be sure to mention it in the comments below. For now though, that is about all of the Latin I can stand!

For more information on your favorite cactus, two of the best books on the subject include Cacti of the Southwest by W. Hubert Earle, and perhaps the finest available book on cacti, The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson.

Now then, if your brain is not totally fried by now, how about we take a look at a few other drought-tolerant plants you might want to consider for your garden.

Drought-Resistant Herbs

First let’s look at herbs. Since most of us know these herbs and their uses, I will not go into great detail on each specific herb on this list. There are many culinary herbs, but not all of them tolerate drought or low water conditions very well. However, many of the most popular herbs used in food preparation are true drought survivors. All of the herbs on the list that follows grow well from east to west and north to south so if you don’t have an herb garden yet, now is the time to plant one! If you want to learn more about herbs, you will find more information here: Herbs.

Garlic Chives – Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an excellent choice for the low water garden. They have a slight garlicky flavor and are delicious in just about everything. They also have lovely pompom lilac-colored blooms. If you allow them to bloom, however, keep in mind that they self-sow like nobody’s business, which can be both a good and a bad thing!

Onion Chives – Onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are also a great choice for a culinary herb that resists drought. These chives are more onion-like in flavor and are much more common in the United States. The blossoms from this chive (and the garlic chive) can be eaten or used for garnish.

Lavender – Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is another excellent choice, with a number of varieties to choose from and lovely purple to light purple blossoms great for sachets or potpourris.

LovageLevisticum officinale, or lovage, has a strong sweet to salty celery-like flavor. Use this herbaceous perennial in soups and stews or add the young stems to salads. While not popularly used here in the United States and Canada, lovage is very frequently found in European gardens.

Borage – With its beautiful (and edible) flowers, borage is a great pick for a dry location – it will grow well and is stunningly beautiful when in bloom. When the leaves are small, they can also be eaten and some say the taste is like that of cucumbers. Borage does very well with little water. In extremely dry locations, you may find it is also easier to keep control of this hardy herb. Borage loves to re-seed and become a part of your landscape.

Echinacea – Grow it as a backdrop to the rest of your herb garden – don’t worry, it will require very little water. Don’t just settle for pink! Echinacea comes in a rainbow of colors, with orange, white, gold, pink, and reds to choose from. Echinacea should be divided every three years, but if you have a smaller area to garden, feel free to wait longer than that and keep the spread in check.

Fennel – Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which grow closely arranged stalks. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves and flowers that produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. It has a mild licorice taste.

Oregano – Greek oregano, as its name suggests, is native to the Greek Isles and a perfect match for the low water herb garden. Its name means “joy of the mountain” from the Greek oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). It is wonderful when used fresh and can be dried as well. Oregano has medicinal qualities and can be used as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial, and an anti-fungal too.

Parsley – Parsley is another option for a low water garden. Technically it’s a biennial, but is commonly used as an annual. If you let the plant bolt and set seed in the second year, the leaves turn bitter but you get lots of new little babies.

Rosemary – Rosemary is nearly indestructible and is perfect in a drought-tolerant garden. Over time, rosemary can grow quite large if not restrained by pruning. It can also make an aromatic hedge and does very well in rocky soils.

Sage – Sage is another contender. Salvia officinalis is a hardy perennial sub-shrub. There are several varieties, all of which can be used fresh or dried. Many of the sage varieties have lovely blossoms as well.

Thyme – Thyme is another good choice with some varieties making excellent ground covers. Dry soil actually concentrates the aromatic oils in thyme, making it taste much more intense – and it thrives in rocky conditions.

Drought-Tolerant Wild Edibles

There are several good wild edibles to add to your drought-tolerant garden. What are wild edibles? Just what they sound like – plants that normally grow wild that we can eat and enjoy. We will look at three of my favorites: dandelion, purslane, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Dandelion – While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as many phytonutrients, and minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines. The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. They’re so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name: Dent-de-lion means lion’s tooth in Old French. The leaves are 3″ to 12″ long, and 1/2″ to 2-1/2″ wide, always growing in a basal rosette.


Have no worries when eating dandelions, there are no poisonous look-alikes. Other very similar Taraxacum species, as well as chicory and wild lettuce, only resemble dandelions in the early spring, and those are also edible. All these edibles exude a white milky sap when injured, but chicory and wild lettuce leaves have some hair, at least on the underside of the midrib, while dandelion leaves are bald.

Dandelions are especially well-adapted to a modern world of “disturbed habitats,” such as lawns and sunny, open places. They were even introduced into the Midwest from Europe to provide food for the imported honeybees in early spring. They now grow virtually worldwide. Dandelions spread further, are more difficult to exterminate, and grow better under adverse circumstances than almost anything else on Earth.

Many gardeners detest them, but the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow. The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle. Unless you remove it completely, it will likely regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins.

“What’s a dandelion digger for?” a dandelion asked.
“It is a human invention, to help us reproduce,” another dandelion replied.

Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they’re the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, with the broadest leaves and largest roots, are the best. But they are still strong growers and good to eat during a drought.

Purslane – Purslane peeks its way out from sidewalk and black top cracks. It invades gardens and it even gained a bit of bad press from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has classified it as a “most noxious weed.”


A weed it may be, but “most noxious?” Please! Give this poor superfood a break! Yes, I said superfood. It truly happens to be a “super food,” for not only is it high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has high marks in beta carotene content.

This is one of the few plant kingdom sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and really is as healthy as eating fish! And you don’t have to check the latest health and environmental bulletins before you eat it!

Known formally as Portulaca oleracea, but also called pursley and little hogweed, purslane is a succulent that looks, as one chef put it, like a “miniature jade plant.” A more colorful description can be found in seed catalogs, which note that in Malawi, the name for the fleshy, round-leafed plant translates to “the buttocks of the wife of a chief.” The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony pepper tang. It grows well anywhere in the world and is a wonderful grower during a drought! Though not as popular now-a-days as it once was, it is gaining in popularity. Martha Washington had a recipe for pickled “pursland” in the Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the collection of hand-written family recipes she received as a wedding gift, according to sources at


Jerusalem Artichoke – Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is familiar to many as a weed, but has some real potential as a crop plant. Native to the central regions of North America, the plant can be grown successfully throughout the U.S. under a variety of temperature and rainfall conditions. Several Native American tribes used Jerusalem artichoke as food prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Jerusalem artichoke became a staple food for North American pilgrims and was thought of as a new food in a “new Jerusalem.” In recent years, the fresh tubers have been widely marketed in the U.S., but in quite limited quantities. The plant can be grown for human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production, and livestock feed.


Similar to water chestnuts in taste, the traditional use of the tuber is as a gourmet vegetable. Jerusalem artichoke tubers resemble potatoes except the carbohydrates composing 75% to 80% of the tubers are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Once the tubers are stored in the ground or refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a much sweeter taste. Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, made into flour, or pickled. They are available commercially under several names, including sunchokes and lambchokes. But as with most things you just cannot beat the home grown taste of this drought-tolerant vegetable.

Growing edibles for your family is always important but during drought conditions it is even more so. Following the tips, strategies and techniques laid out in the first article in this series, as well as planting some of the varieties mentioned here, will help to ensure your family is well fed no matter the rainfall.

This article is part of a 2 part series by Joe Urbach. You can see the entire series here:

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1
Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2


Storage Guidelines for Fruits & Vegetables

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crate-of-peppers-for-storageIt’s harvest time for many [Grow] Network members – and hopefully there is more food coming in than you know what to do with!

Marjory sent me this handy guide from Cornell, and I thought that it would be useful to share it with everybody – to help make decisions about how you’re going to put up your harvest.

This is a PDF from the extension service at Cornell University, with a ton of information about how to properly harvest and store a variety of crops. It’s got recommendations for about 50 fruits and veggies, along with some good information about storage options – different places around the homestead where it’s safe to store a surplus, and some creative ideas for packing materials and containers you can use.

One especially helpful little tidbit that’s in here is to always store your fruits and vegetables separately – fruits release ethylene which can cause your vegetables to ripen more quickly. And stored fruits can take on the taste of nearby vegetables… Who knew?

You can read or download the original PDF here: Storage Guidelines for Fruits & Vegetables

Many thanks to Eric de Long and S. Reiners of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Chemung County