Category Archives: Vegetable Gardening

iStock_000025080370Small

All About Overwintering: What is it and why do we do it?

Overwintering is defined as the process by which you keep plants alive through a season in which they’d otherwise die whether it is due to weather or geographical placement. Why overwinter? Gardeners like to overwinter annuals to keep them growing and flowering season after season, but organic food movements are encouraging overwintering fruits and vegetable plants, too.

There are many benefits to using overwintering techniques. Overwintering vegetable plants causes them to develop earlier in the spring and offer a harvest well before the plants typically would. Plants like spinach, onions, and beans overwinter well and offer a delightful first taste of gardening season come March.

Fruit plants like blueberries, lemons, and fig trees overwinter well indoors and provide year-round fresh fruit at a low cost. Citrus trees like meyer lemons can be grown in a pot indoors in the winter and placed outdoors in full sun in the summer. Gardeners always benefit from having a touch of summer indoors during cooler months.

Bringing flowering and green plants indoors to overwinter increases the oxygen and humidity in your home. Pops of color, growing life during months of dormancy, and fresh smells are all added benefits to your home when you choose to overwinter.

If you’re a new gardener, the easiest way to get started is with potted plants. Explore steps to begin by checking out the Avant Garden guide to overwintering.

Overwintering Turnips

All About Overwintering: Radishes and Turnips

Radishes and turnips are quick to mature and will develop quickly after days become longer and temperatures rise in the spring. An added benefit of overwintering radishes and turnips is their resistance to pests and disease.

These plants appreciate well-drained soil that is loosened about a foot to 16 inches deep.  Select a turnip-growing site that will get full sun when spring season arrives.

Plant seeds about a half inch deep when the first frost occurs and cover with a layer of compost and a thicker layer of straw for winter protection.

Throughout the winter keep the soil lightly moist, but not overly moist, to avoid root rot. Root rot will cause the plants to be deprived of oxygen and can kill the plants or stunt their growth. Be sure to keep these beds weed-free. As temperatures begin to climb and winter winds down you can remove the straw layer over your garden bed.

These plants will have initial harvest anywhere from six to eight weeks into growing. Mature harvests will be available about two and a half months after growth begins. Water plants at an average one inch of water weekly. Once harvested, turnips and radishes will store about two to three months in a cool, dark place.

Interested in overwintering other vegetables? Spinach, onions, and garlic are all great options!

Overwintering Garlic

All About Overwintering: Garlic

Garlic, like onions and spinach, is a cold-tolerant and hardy plant that overwinters very well. Hardneck varieties are best for overwintering garlic, rather than the typical softneck supermarket varieties that you may be most familiar with. German Extra-Hardy garlic will store up to ten months, while Chesnok Red is best for baking and roasting.

Plant your garlic cloves in well-drained soil before the ground freezes. Place cloves flat side down and pointed side up in the soil. Cover with compost and a protective layer of straw. Consider adding leaves in so they break down and provide nutrients through the overwintering process. Garlic does not need the external protective structures, like polytunnels or greenhouses, like spinach and onions.

Once the last frost passes you are able to begin removing layers of straw from your garlic garden bed. Your garlic will begin to develop scapes, which indicate flowering is near. Cut them from the plants before they flower to energize bulb growth. Continue watering your garlic plants until their leaves begin to brown.

Once stems begin to collapse you can determine if your garlic is ready to harvest. Carefully dig in to check bulb size to see if it is on target with your variety. Don’t let bulbs sit underground too long or they will begin to rot. Once you remove bulbs you can use fresh cloves for cooking or store them for up to 9 or so months for use throughout the year. Save a few cloves to repeat the process all over again next year!

Overwintering Onions

All About Overwintering: Onions

Although typically planted in the spring, harvested late summer, and stored for use until next summer, onions can have two major harvest cycles and you may be using only one of them. Begin overwintering onions in September and eat fresh onions in late spring!

Varieties like Candy, Walla Walla Sweet, and Olympic have all proved to be good overwintering onion options. Onion growth does not occur underground and away from the elements, therefore these plants benefit from protection like cold frames, polytunnels, or burlap structures in gardening zones that host colder temperatures and frozen ground for much of the winter.

Shoot for mid-September to begin your onion overwintering process. If you plant onions too early, the initial growth will be detrimental to the spring product. Direct sow onion varieties into the ground leaving about three to four inches between each bulb and cover with abundant compost and straw to protect the plants.

In similar fashion to overwintering spinach, you will want to slowly remove the protective straw layer in portions as temperatures steady above freezing. By March or April you can fully expose the plants, which should appear green and fruitful. Continue caring for your plants until June when they should be ready for harvest.

Locally grown vegertables

6 Awesome CSAs in Washington

Community sustained agriculture (CSA) is a growing trend all across the United States. There are several ways CSA programs (also known as farm shares) can work, but they all boil down to the same principle, which you can read about here.

The Northwest is full of people who love organic produce, so we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite CSAs in Washington. Most of these are organic or natural farms. If you’re in the area and interested in joining, don’t worry about it being late in the season! Many of these have pro-rated options, or you can get on the list for next year. Even if you’re not in Washington, lots of these websites have recipes and other great content you’ll find useful. So check them out and see what the Evergreen state has to offer.

(It was hard enough to narrow our list down to these, so we saved ourselves some trouble and did not put them in any order of preference. It’d be too hard to decide!)

Abundantly Green, Poulsbo, WA

Abundantly Green is a farm with simple goals. They provide food that doesn’t use herbicides, pesticides, or GMOs, and hasn’t traveled the interstate. They have a summer CSA as well as a year-round program. They also offer a chicken share, where you can get 8 whole chickens, either all at once or spread throughout the year. In addition to produce and chicken, the farm raises and sells pork, lamb, beef, and eggs.

Boistfort Valley Farm- Curtis, WA

Boistfort Valley Farm seems to have everything figured out. They are certified organic, have both a summer and a winter CSA, and are featured at several farmers markets and stores throughout Washington. Their website features a community recipe page, and they’ve just started a video series that offers great insight into the “behind the scenes” of the farm.

Of course, the CSA is our main focus. Boistfort not only has a variety of share sizes throughout the year, but they have drop sites from Portland to Seattle, so if you’re in the Northwest, there may be one near you. They’ve also started a CSA scholarship fund, so that those who otherwise couldn’t afford the large lump sum payments can have access to fresh organic produce.

Growing Things Farm- Carnation, WA

Nestled on the Snoqualmie River, Growing Things Farm has been partnering with their animals and the land to provide their customers the best tasting and most nutritious produce possible since 1991. They work with minimal machinery, and incorporate their animals into a holistic management system. They raise vegetables, berries, fruit, eggs, pastured meat birds and pork, and grass-fed beef.  They’ve chosen to be certified naturally grown instead of USDA Organic (mostly paperwork differences), and emphasize the importance of knowing your farmers and reading labels carefully, whether the sticker says the food is organic or not.

The Growing Things Farm CSA program runs for 16 weeks, beginning in June. Their early crop includes greens such as spinach, baby salad, and a lot of Asian greens. Later in the season, there is more variety, including beats, tomatoes, peas, beans, broccoli, and much more. They also have options for fruit and egg shares, so you can get a lot of your food in the same place! They operate on a weekly pickup schedule and do offer payment plans to fit different budget needs. Our favorite part is that they sell veggie starts too, encouraging people to start their own gardens.

Hedlin Farms, Mt. Vernon, WA

Hedlin Farms grows both organic and conventional produce on their almost-400 acres. Their CSA boxes feature mostly their products, but occasionally, items from other local farms with the same ideals. Accounts are managed online, making it easy for members to schedule vacation weeks, which they can make up at the end of the season. They also share recipes to spark inspiration for how to use the items in their boxes.

Klesick Family Farm, Stanwood, WA

The Klesick Family Farm has a passion for doing good, hence their tagline “a box of good”. There are a variety of options for their CSA shares, including a “juicer” box full of juicable produce. They source their offerings from their own farm and several local ones, and deliver all throughout Washington. Members can choose to donate boxes or money to several charities, expanding the reach of the good the Klesick CSA does. The Klesicks also offer coaching and consulting on agricultural and business solutions.

Nash’s Organic Produce, Sequim, WA

Nash’s Organic Produce is another CSA that seems to have it all. In addition to the recipes available on the website, members get access to a weekly newsletter with recipes, health tips, and news from the farm. Farm share membership is also accompanied by a 10% discount on Nash’s products at their Farm store and Farmer’s Market stands. Pick-up is available at several Farmers market in several Washington towns.

So those are some of our favorite CSAs and Farm shares in the state of Washington. What are your favorites?

The effects of gardening

GREEN GARDENING: The Effects of Gardening

Spending time in your garden is not only good for the environment but it’s good for you too! Let’s explore the effects of gardening!

Studies show that gardening has a positive effect on your health by lowering stress, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol, and lessening muscle tension. Additionally, the time spent outside digging in the dirt can have a positive effect on your weight.

The environment can benefit from your time in the garden, too. Living things like bees, butterflies, and birds can gain food sources, water sources, and living spaces as a result of your garden. Putting flowering plants in your garden offers these species an opportunity to snack on nectar, while accessories like birdfeeders give birds an opportunity to fill up in your yard. Creating spaces specifically for these critters allows them to dine without the fear of predators that may typically disturb them in nature.

Gardening also creates learning lessons for kids. Youngsters are so tightly connected to electronics lately and it is hard to get them outside. Time outdoors shows kids how plants can grow from seed to harvest and gives them a goal to work towards. The additional responsibilities of watering, weeding, and caring for plants shows them that accountability can pay off, and that’s a lesson they can use for life.

Gardening’s effects are pretty positive; however what we do in our gardens can have a negative impact on Mother Nature. The use of pesticides and chemicals in gardening practices has caused a destructive effect on the environment. As a result, we have seen plant diseases and insects that have become immune to treatment. We’ve also seen an effect on the honeybee species that could result from pesticide use. Learn more about Colony Collapse Disorder and how you can help here.

Gardeners who are not cognizant of water use can be wasteful, so it is important to remember when and how to water to maximize each drop. We can cut back on water use by choosing native plants for our gardens. These plants will thrive best because they are indigenous to the region in which you live. Learn more about water conservation and gardening here.

Gardening is such a positive experience for humans and for the land we love. Taking a few precautions, making some good decisions, and spending time doing the right thing will all make your gardening efforts go further. Mother Nature and our future generations will be grateful for it, and your garden will be happier now, too.

Composting

GREEN GARDENING: Composting

Raise your hand if you recycle! A mainstream practice in most of our lives, recycling has gained widespread popularity through the use of formal recycling programs, updated laws and regulations, and the popular use of reusable bags! Recycling in everyday life is simple, but it’s even simpler in the garden through the practice of composting. Composting allows you to recycle waste and scraps to create a very robust fertilizer for your plants.

Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter that provides nutrients and fertilizers to your garden. An equal combination of green materials and brown materials ensure compost success. Green materials are rich in nitrogen and protein and cause heat in a compost pile. Brown materials are carbon- and carbohydrate-rich and they feed the organisms and microbes that cause decomposition. Compost eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, reduces the need for extra watering, and promotes higher crop yield.

It is easy to get started with your homegrown compost pile! More than 25% of an average household’s waste consists of yard trimmings and food scraps that can be composted. Use a contained bin or a vacant space in your garden and collect leaves, twigs, straw, grass clippings, ground coffee, vegetable and fruit scraps, and more. Following the provided directions, add a compost starter like Ringer® Compost Plus Organic Compost Starter to activate and expedite the decomposition process and mix the waste materials thoroughly.

Continually add kitchen and yard scraps to your compost pile to continue the process. The most crucial aspect of composting is an on-going presence of greens and browns in the compost pile. Mix and stir your compost pile every week or so to add the new compost materials and introduce them to the decomposition process.

Add compost to your beds when transplanting seedlings, sowing seeds, or moving plants around in your garden. Throughout the growing season, use compost to provide ongoing nutrients to your plants.

Water Conservation

GREEN GARDENING: Water Conservation

Water conservation is key to preserving our natural resources while also providing your lawn and garden with the moisture it needs. Lawns and plants typically need about 1 inch of water a week. Manual watering is necessary for areas that do not have sufficient rainfall or areas that experience dryer conditions during the height of summer.

Water your flower and garden beds deeply. Get into the root systems so that your plants and lawn are not being superficially watered. A little extra water during a watering, rather than multiple lower volume watering, will be more beneficial.

Water evaporation is the largest source of waste. Water in early morning hours or later in the evening to ensure that evaporation doesn’t steal from the process. Watering in the early morning allows you to avoid possible fungus or mold issues as a result of standing and pooling water on leaves and petals. Plants and grass can dry off during the day, which mitigates risk of disease growth.

Reduce evaporation by creating a shorter path of water travel with drip irrigators and soaker hoses. Deliver water directly to plant roots and soak water into the ground rather than losing some of it on plant leaves.

Mulch and ground covers are an alternative that helps conserve water, too. Mulch creates a layer of protection to your garden beds that not only helps prevent weeds, but also retains water. Ground covers keep your yard cool and less likely to dry out. There are various types of mulch and ground covers that will work for any garden style and gardener’s preference.

Using plants that are native to a region will help conserve water. Plants that are adapted to local water allowances and heat will better survive in your garden than plants that demand resources that do not naturally occur in your garden. Check with your local garden center to understand which plants are indigenous to your region and which plants you should use to save water.

Colony Collapse Disorder

GREEN GARDENING: Bees and Colony Collapse Disorder

Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem and the success of the agricultural community. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that bees pollinate 80 percent of our flowering crops, which constitute a third of everything we eat. A low or non-existent bee population would not only affect the produce we eat, but also the feed supply available to livestock.

The bee population is a waning one. In the winter of 2006-2007 a low hive population was reported to the USDA. With worker bee population losses spanning from 30-90% and an absence of dead bees, the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) gained attention. Although these beehives still had a queen bee and young bees, coupled with an abundant honey and pollen supply, the hives would not sustain without the worker bees.

Why is CCD occurring? Researchers, along with the USDA, have focused their efforts on causes including:

  1. the invasive varroa mite (a pest of honeybees)
  2. the Israeli Acute Paralysis virus and the gut parasite Nosema, which are new and emerging diseases
  3. pesticide poisoning used for in-hive insect or mite control
  4. bee management stress
  5. foraging habitat modification
  6. inadequate forage and poor nutrition supply

Although not one particular factor is gaining more credit than another, some believe a combination of the above incidences could be creating CCD. Researchers are using four overall methods of study to determine why CCD is happening. They are collecting data from beekeepers, analyzing bee samples, conducting hypothesis-driven research, and instituting preventive measures to see the effect they have on bee health and habitat.

You can help the bees by providing space in your garden with flowering plants that support their need for nectar and pollen. Use OMRI Listed products to keep your garden chemical free and prevent bees from transporting chemicals to their hive. Provide a shallow water source to allow thirsty bees to drink without the danger of drowning.

OMRI-listed-logo

GREEN GARDENING: OMRI Listed Products

Organic gardening has grown from a “fad” to a commonplace way of gardening life. With its popularity growing, so have the products that help support keeping your garden organic. Unfortunately impostors, cheaters, and fakes began to share shelf space with true organic gardening solutions. How do you keep the bad out and understand what is really organic?

For a product to achieve organic certification, it must successfully pass a litany of tests and reviews from third party agencies, which are recognized by the USDA. The leading non-profit agency supporting these efforts is the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), which validates and promotes the use of certified organic products.

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is an independent international nonprofit organization that determines which products are allowed for use in organic production and processing. OMRI Listed® products are allowed for use in certified organic operations under the USDA National Organic Program.

OMRI conducts a range of tests and reviews and assesses if a product is viable to be listed. When a product is “OMRI Listed” it carries the OMRI Listed Seal, which assures the suitability of a product for organic production, handling, and processing.

OMRI Listed products range from fertilizers for your yard to insect killing solutions to fungicides and more.