Beets

 

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So I just planted my beets the other day, and in celebration I bought some from our local grocery store. I cooked them for about an hour in the oven and then chopped them up with some pears and nuts and put them in some mixed greens. It was a day to remember.

This is my first year growing beets and I decided to grow the Early Wonder variety. It’s a old heirloom variety dating back to pre-1811. Must be good if they’ve been haulin’ them around this long ūüėČ

Here are some  facts about our little mediterranean native:

  • They are packed full of: potassium, folic acid, manganese, fiber, vitamin a, c, calcium, and iron
  • They are biennial- meaning they flower and set seed their second season
  • VERY cold hardy.
  • Sow directly into the ground, but soak the seeds in warm water for a few hours before placing in the soil. Helps with germination. (Which I didn’t do…shoot)
  • Each seed is actually a cluster of 2-6 seeds
  • Plants that reach maturity during hot weather will have less color and flavor. Dress your plants with compost and plant in the shade of another plant to secure your chances of a good harvest

Growing beets:

  • First off, pick a nice sunny location that has well drained soil
  • Amend your soil with organic material working it in to a depth of 8-10 inches
  • Sow seeds 2-4 inches apart, water well and add a thin layer of dressing. This helps to moderate soil moisture and temperature. *Keep beets watered well and you will have happy gardeners and happy beets*
  • Beets require lots of phosphorus to grow healthy large roots. If you run a soil test and you find in lacks in phosphorus give your plants a side dressing of bonemeal or rock phosphate. (Favored pH range for beets is 6.0-7.0)
  • Stop sowing seeds once the temperatures reach about 75 degrees, but start again 8 or so weeks before the first fall frost, for a late season harvest

Harvesting beets:

  • Beets taste best when they are 1.5-2.5 inches in diameter. After that they start to lose flavor and the texture becomes unappetizing
  • Beet greens can be harvested as soon as plants are an inch or two high. Older greens are best when steamed or sauteed.
  • When beets are ready to harvest, pull or dig them out then remove the tops by twisting them or cutting them off, being careful to leave a few inches of stem on the root to keep them from bleeding and losing their moisture. They can be stored this way, in the fridge for up to a week
  • For long term storage, layer the beets in damp sawdust or sand and keep in a moist cold root storage until ready to use

 

  • Beet seeds

 

 

Getting ready for winter

Let’s talk about winterizing. A lot of people, including myself, thought you could just let the garden go once you collected all you wanted from the garden. But I’ve realized over time that it would be like having a one way friendship with someone, it just doesn’t work.

First lets go into WHY winterizing your garden is important:

  1. By composting all your left over annual plants and vines it prevents the build up of diseases.
  2. It also gets ride of nasty bugs that would hang around in the dead plants waiting for next year’s vegetables.¬†(Composting reaches high heat levels which kills off diseases and bugs that otherwise would live if left in the garden.)
  3. Cleaning out your annuals gives you a chance to build up your compost and get some great dirt filled with nutrients for next year’s garden.
This is about half of the garden scraps we have so far. All going into our compost bin!

This is about half of the garden scraps we have so far. All going into our compost bin!

How to winterize your STRAWBERRIES:

This was my first year growing strawberries and it was such a fun experience. We had about 20 plants that produced all summer and are still producing a few berries today!

JUNE BEARING STRAWBERRIES: One/two weeks after they have stopped baring fruit take a pair of scissors or use a lawnmower and go over your berry plants to cut them back. This will help increase your production for the following year.

EVER BEARING STRAWBERRIES: I’ve heard of a few people that will cut their berries back the same way they do their June Bearing plants, but most people recommend leaving them be. But make sure you cut off all the runners and replant them or compost them.

FOR JUNE BEARING and EVER BEARING STRAWBERRIES: Before the first hard frost sets in, cover your strawberries with 4-6 inches of straw and cover with a wire mesh of sorts to keep the straw from blowing away during the season.

This haven't been winterized yet, but should be sometime this week.

These haven’t been winterized yet, but should be sometime this week. (Lows in the 30’s this week!)

How to winterize your RHUBARB, ASPARAGUS, HORSERADISH, GARLIC, and other Perennials:

Mulch, mulch, mulch and more mulch.

Rhubarb: Mulch with organic matter and well rotted manure.

Asparagus: Mulch with 4-6 inches of chopped leaves, hay or straw. Remove the mulch in the spring.

Horseradish: Mulch only if you live in particularly harsh areas. Otherwise no mulch is needed.

Garlic: Mulch with chopped leaves, grass hay or alfalfa. Avoid grain straw if you can which can host curl mite that can attack garlic.

mulching

WINTER GARDENING AND COVER CROPS:

Instead of closing up shop after clearing out all the summer plants, plant something that can grow and keep your garden alive. Kale, collards, leafy greens, garlic, rhubarb, shallots and carrots are a few great things that you can start late in late summer and harvest in the fall. Your garden can also work as a great ‘root cellar’ of sorts, to store things like carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage. Just burry in a few inches of soil and place a marker over the spot so it can be easily found once winter sets in.

Something else to consider are cover crops! I have never done a cover crop but I really want to try one this year. I love that they keep your soil healthy and in place.

Why cover crops?

“Cover crops help to retain the soil, lessen erosion, and decrease the impact of precipitation on the garden by slowing the runoff of water. They also reduce mineral leaching and compaction, and suppress perennial and winter annual weed growth. The top growth adds organic matter when it is tilled into the garden soil. The cover crop’s root system also provides organic matter and opens passageways that help improve air and water movement in the soil.” -Cornell University

Great cover crop options:

covercrops

 

Portia Westesen

Houseplants

I’ve been thinking of plants a lot lately. Although we garden we have hardly any plants in our house! We have one clover plant that sits on our fireplace, but other than that we have absolutely nothing! (Until today, we went to our local gardening store and got a little Golden Pothos.)

I’ve heard a few people over time express how they have a strong dislike for houseplant because of how dirty they are. They couldn’t be more wrong!

Why are house plants so important?

Research has shown that having house plants reduces stress levels, increases oxygen and cleans the air. So even if you hate gardening you can have a lot of the benefits gardening gives!

Top houseplants for cleaning the air:

  • Snake plants: Great for filtering out Formaldehyde¬†and air pollutants: It’ll do great in the bathroom with low light and humid conditions.
  • Golden Pothos: Also great for filtering out Formaldehyde. Stays green even if kept in the dark!
  • Chrysanthemum: Great for filtering out Benzene.¬†¬†Loves light and warmth, so put next to a window ūüôā
  • Red-edged dracaena:¬†Great for removing xylene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde. Grows VERY tall.
  • Weeping fig: Fickle plants, but great for removing¬†formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.
  • English ivy: Has found to remove air born fecal matter in the air along with formaldehyde.
  • Warneck dracaena: Kills pollutants that have been related to varnishes and oils. Does not need direct sunlight.
  • Chinese evergreen: Filters out a variety of air pollutants and begins to remove more toxins as time and exposure continues.
  • Heart leaf philodendron: TOXIC to plants and kids. But GREAT at removing¬†all kinds of VOCs. There are also great at battling formaldehyde from sources like particleboard.
  • Peace lily:¬†On the Top of NASA‚Äôs list for removing all three of most common VOCs ‚ÄĒ formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene. It can also combat toluene and xylene.
  • Aloe vera: Sun loving plant! Helps kill¬†formaldehyde and benzene.
  • Spider Plant:¬†battles benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene.
  • Rubber tree: VERY easy plant to grow, acts like an air purifier.
  • Bamboo palm: On the top of NASA’s list for clean air plants.¬†Great at clearing out bezene and trichloroethylene.

So add a little green friend to your home and clean the air around you!

Portia Westesen

Turn your scraps into garden gold!

Let’s talk about compost.¬†I LOVE compost.

Compost is like natures way of recycling. It’s good for everyone, so why not do it?! Composting feeds hundreds of thousands of organisms in the soil. Not only does it help improve your garden it improves the soil structure and makes it easier for plants to grow! The more variety you put in your compost the more diverse your organisms will be WHICH means more benefits for your compost and in turn for your garden.

When I say composting is easy, I really mean it.

Take all those used and smelly waste from your kitchen, garden or yard and, instead of just tossing it in the garbage, toss it into compost box. Don’t know what to use to hold your compost? Just use a large plastic tub, trashcan, or make your own out of wood! Nothin’ special.

Here is a list of things that can be composted: (this list is probably only the beginning, but it’ll give you a good start)

  • fruit and vegetables, skins and all.
  • eggshells (crushed)
  • farm animal manures
  • flowers
  • grass clippings (in THIN layers)
  • hay
  • leaves
  • oats and oat straw, and most other hulls, straws, moss.
  • peat moss
  • potato skins and vines
  • shells (from sea creatures, make sure they are ground and buried deep in the pile)
  • tea leaves
  • weeds

Two of the biggest elements in composting is carbon and nitrogen. You generally want 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith has a great article on composting, his trick to remembering what the difference is between the two is “30 parts brown (for carbon) and 1 part green (for the nitrogen).”

Composting BROWNS:

  • Straw-oats, barley, wheat and rye. (generally, most people prefer this type for composting)
  • Hay
  • Cornstalks and vines from pea and beans
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Wood Shavings and Sawdust
  • Pine Needles

Composting GREENS:

  • Any plant (fruit, vegetables, flowers) material as long as it’s not diseased
  • Grass clippings
  • Seaweed
  • Weeds (make sure there’s no poisons on it!)
  • Bird feathers
  • Manures
  • Alfafa hay

What NOT to compost

  • Meat and Dairy, mainly because they attract animals.
  • Diseased plants and the roots of the cabbage plants
  • Weeds that have gone to seed
  • Ashes
  • Manure from animals other than herbivores. Like cats and dogs.
  • Plants that have herbicides on them

This is my 2nd year really composting and I’m really enjoying all I’ve learned from it so far! Good luck and don’t be afraid to ask questions or google more about it! Composting is so easy and so beneficial for your garden!

Portia Westesen

Onions

I’ve run into some issues growing my onions this year. First year growing them and I’m¬†definitely¬†learning a LOT. Saying I love onions is an understatement. I remember hating fresh onions all my life until I was probably 16. I’m not really sure how it happened, somehow one sneaked into a¬†sandwich¬†and when I bit into it, it was like I never had an onion before! So for all you onion haters out there, just give your old potent, spicy, smelly friend a try one more time. Or maybe 15 times, I’ve heard it takes 15 or so times before your tastebuds get retrained to like something.

First lets talk about what onions love. Then we’ll dive into the many things I did wrong.

1) Make sure the soil is always moist for the first two weeks. This’ll make the difference between good and great onions.

2) Keep the weeds at bay. Onions grow so close to the surface and their roots are very shallow.

3) Sandy soil is the best for these guys. Keep it fertile and loose. ūüėČ

4) Onions from seed take a long time to grow, so give them a head start. 8-10 weeks indoors before last frost date.

5) Like number 1, even after the first two weeks they need consistent water, if the top inch is dry give it a good water.

6) Spacing for onion plants. If you want bigger onions you need to space them 4-5 inches apart. If you want a higher yield with average size onions, 2 inches apart, and if you want scallions, 1 inch apart.

7) Spacing for onion sets: Remember, if you are buying sets of onions, smaller is better! They are already a year old and are ready to set out flowers, which isn’t what you want, so to prevent that from happening find the smallest bulbs and plant as soon as possible. If you are planting in rows, space them 6-8 inches apart.

Okay, now onto my experience this year with onions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I started out growing from seed in February, but between my wonderful dog, and my baby girl they didn’t really make it. So I went down to our local gardening store and picked up some onion sets.

1) My first problem was I thought I should buy the biggest set of bulbs so I could produce the biggest onions. Wrong. Smaller is better. They are less likely to bolt, so look for bulbs about the size of a dime.

Everything was growing great and strong and the leaves had started falling over so I thought it was time to harvest. When I went to pull them I noticed that most of them were fairly small. I was expecting baseball size onions and instead got golfball sized onions. Major disappointment.

2) To much nitrogen. I’m not sure if this was the reason for the smaller size, but I’ve heard that to much nitrogen can produce lots of leaves with small bulbs. Next season I will test my soil just to make sure that levels are normal.

3) Spacing. I believe I was spacing for onion seeds not for sets. So instead of giving them 6-8 inches of space, I gave them 3-4. (I’m feeling a little embarrassed.)

4) Know where your plants are from. I’ve heard a rumor that sets are known to grow smaller onions anyways but also, I have no idea where my onions came from! It is best to buy plants locally, but if that is not possible find varieties that are known to grow great in your climate.

photo (10)  photo (11)  photo (12)

 

Portia Westesen

Common Zucchini Problems

If you live in the humid region of the United States, growing Zucchini can be a real pain. High humidity breeds and homes thousands of bugs, so you need to watch your zucchini carefully. I suggest going out every morning to watch for a few things:

1) Is your plant wilting a ton? Check the base of the plant. If it’s covered with saw dust looking bits then it is the squash vine borer. Use a sharp knife and make an incision on the base of the stem, right above the infected area. Carefully pull it back and you should see the maggot/bug. Take him out and bury the cut you made in the plant. It should recover just fine.

A friend of mine, Jen, is an avid gardener in Oklahoma and recently had this problem! She was able to save some of her plants after taking those little grubby bugs out. Here’s a picture of her beautiful garden and a picture where the squash vine borer lived.

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2)¬†Is your plant shriveling up, turning brown and falling off? Then that’s a pollinating issue that you’ll need to use a paint brush to manually help them pollinate. First you need to¬†distinguish the male blossoms from the female blossoms:

image (1)

The male plants just have a nice long thin stem where as the females have kind of a plumpness (that eventually becomes a zucchini) under the flower. From there you take a small paint brush and run it across the center of the male blossom, where the pollen is. Then gently brush it over the center stigma of the female. Done!


3) Is your plant speckled and turning black? It’s the squash bug! Handpicking them seems to be the best way to kill them, just knock them off into a can of soapy water, but you can also use insecticide, like Bacillus thuringiensis, which is an organic insecticide. The best time to catch them is in the early morning hours when they’re still a little sleepy and not as alert.

squash-bugs-2  squashBugAdult

Squash home grown is so much tastier than store bought, plus in our grocery store it’s about .55 cents per zucchini!¬†Outrageous.¬† With how much zucchini one plant can produce I’ve realized that it is well worth my time to keep it alive ūüôā

Portia Westesen

What’s in your home?

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It’s crazy how many chemicals they can pack in those bottles! Check out what ingredients are in your everyday items and what it all means! Two of my favorite sites are below:

Good Guide

Skin Deep

And although most things contain some form of chemicals you can always choose the ones that have a LOT less, or have better alternatives. For example we are starting to switch our house over from classic soaps like Dawn dishsoap to Dr. Bronner’s. I eventually want to start making my own soap, but that’s a¬†little ways¬†off.

Here’s a few examples of common household cleaning products and then a possible alternative!

1a: Dawn dish soap ingredients (from what I could find online): Triclosan, water, magnesium, sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate, ammonium laureth sulfate, lauryl polyglucose, lauramidopropylanine oxide, SD Alcohol 3A, sodium xylene sulfonate, sodium chloride, fragrance, pentasodium pentetate, sodium bisulfite, quaternium 15, D&C Orange 4.

1b: Dr. Bronner’s Citrus magic soap ingredients: ¬†Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Organic Orange Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Lemon Oil, Organic Lime Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol.

2a: Comet scrub ingredients: Can’t find a list of ingredients, if anyone can find them send them my way!

2b: Home made scrub ingredients*: baking soda + dish soap, make into a paste and voila! You can also add Borax and your favorite essential oils into the mix. (*Thanks Christine for the tips on a good scrub base!)

3a: Windex ingredients: Water, Isopropyl Alcohol, 2-Hexoxyethanol, Videt EGM, Sodium C14-17, Sec-Alkyl Sulfonate, Ammonium Hydroxide, Propylene Glycol, Mirapol Surf S-210, Fragrance, Liquitint Sky Blue Dye

3b: Homemade window Cleaner: Vinegar and essential oils

Not only are you using ingredients that are more natural, recognizable and less scary BUT you can keep reusing your own containers! Yay for less waste!

Portia Westesen