» Archive for April, 2010

Rotate Your Crops

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Begin spraying roses now for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a good product for a less toxic solution.
    • The average date of the last frost in Willits is May 12. So protect young flowers and vegetables on clear, cold nights.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.
    • Begonias bulbs can be started indoors now and set out after danger of frost. You’ll enjoy their beautiful flowers this summer.
    • Tomatoes and peppers can be set out now, but be ready to cover them if cold weather returns.

Crop Rotation

Deciding what to plant and sketching a layout for this year’s vegetable garden are
among the joys of gardening. When planning your vegetable garden, remember the importance
of crop rotation.

To keep your vegetable garden happy and healthy year after year, it is important to rotate your crops. You do this by shifting the locations of crops within the garden each season so the same crop does not grow in the same place year after year. This practice cuts down on pest and disease problems and balances the soil nutrients.

Another reason to rotate crops is that different crops have different nutrient requirements, and they affect the soil balance differently. Growing the same crop in the same spot can deplete the soil of those nutrients.

Some plants, like corn and tomatoes, are heavy feeders that quickly deplete the nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil. Root vegetables and herbs are light feeders, and peas and beans add nitrogen to the soil but need lots of phosphorus.

To rotate crops, divide your vegetables into root crops (carrots, beets, onions), legumes that feed the soil (peas and beans), leaf crops (including broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and other greens), and fruiting crops (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, squash, cucumbers and corn). Plant each group of vegetables in a separate bed or two and then establish a rotation order. Where you plant peas and beans one year, plant leaf crops the next year and fruiting crops the year after that. Follow these heavy feeders by light-feeding root crops the next season. Then start the rotation over again.

Since legumes add nitrogen to the soil, they are followed by nitrogen-loving leaf crops, which reduces the need for fertilizer. Root crops break up the soil, so they are followed by legumes that like the loose soil texture.

Try not to plant crops from the same family in the same bed two years in a row. This will discourage the build-up of diseases and pests that prefer one group of vegetables. When plants change from year to year, the disease organisms don’t have a chance to build up large populations. Leave at least two and preferably three or more years between the times that you plant members of the same family in an area of your garden.

Potatoes are a little tricky to work into the rotation. They can be planted with the root crops, but be sure they’re planted in a section of the bed that has not recently held tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant, which are in the same family. Instead, plant them where the squash and cucumbers were the year before.

The concept is simple, and keeping a notebook of your crops from year to year is a great way to keep your crop rotation in line!

Amazing Artichokes!

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Last chance to plant asparagus roots this year. This delicious vegetable will keep producing for up to 20 years.
    • Turn in cover crops now and you will be ready to plant your summer garden in two or three weeks.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, callas, cannas and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Wall O Water” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.

Amazing Artichokes

Artichokedom’s truest and grandest claim to fame is that a young starlet named Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first Queen of the Artichokes in Castroville, California in 1947. The somewhat spontaneous event got both artichokes and her career off to a great start.

California artichokes originally came from Italy. They are actually a thistle plant which is cultivated for its edible flower buds. A full sized plant covers an area four feet in diameter and grows four to five feet tall. The long, arching, spiked leaves are silver-green in color and make the artichoke look like a giant fern. The buds, if allowed to flower, are up to seven inches across and are a beautiful violet-purple color.

The artichoke thrives prefers temperate climates – never too hot or cold. The Salinas Valley of California, where winters are relatively frost-free and summers are cool and moist with fog, is an ideal growing area. It also has deep, fertile, well-drained soils which promote maximum root development for artichokes, which do not like overly saturated soils.

But artichokes are very adaptable and also grow well in Willits. Choose a site that gets full sun or part shade where they won’t shade smaller plants and where you can leave them undisturbed for several years.

They should have rich, well-drained soil so dig a large hole and add a couple of shovelfuls of organic matter and some bone meal. Set plants 3 feet apart, and feed with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer through the spring.

Artichoke plants need to stay moist during the growing season, so use a thick mulch in the summer to help retain moisture. In the fall, remove the dead leaves then mulch with manure and enjoy their tasty buds the next spring.

The size of the bud depends upon where it is located on the plant. The largest are “terminal” buds produced at the end of the long central stems. The medium buds grow on the sides, and the babies at the base. Harvest artichokes before the buds start to open when they are still green and tight. The harvest season continues until hot weather comes on, in our climate, and you may get a few more in the fall.

Artichokes should be divided and replanted every 5 to 7 years when they become crowded. One plant per artichoke eater will usually produce plenty of tender buds.

The traditional variety of artichoke, grown in Castroville, is called ‘Green Globe’. It has large green heads with thick fleshy scales. A new variety, ‘Emerald’, is a very productive, thornless variety. It has buttery flavored ‘chokes with a large heart and conical shape. It is much more tolerant of both heat and cold, and is adapted to both coastal and inland valley conditions.

Enjoy this tasty delicacy right out of your own garden.

Edible Flowers

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes can be set out with protection. “Season Starter” will protect them down to 20°F and will give them a warm environment during the day.
    •Plant sunflowers now from seed or plants. Choose either the multi-stemmed kinds for cut flowers or the giants for edible seeds.
    •Dahlias come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Plant the roots now for flowers this summer.
    •Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    •Last chance to plant asparagus roots this year. This delicious vegetable will keep producing for up to 20 years.

A Feast of Flowers

Many of the plants we grow for their flowers were once grown for their flavors as well. Today, cooking and garnishing with flowers is back in vogue. Many restaurant chefs and creative home cooks garnish their entrees with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.

Common edible flowers include nasturtiums, Johnny-Jump-Ups, borage and chive blossoms, calendulas, bachelor buttons and carnations. Lavender, daylilies and lilacs have edible flowers as well.

Nasturtiums are among the most delicious edible flowers, with a mildly spicy flavor. Stuff whole flowers with savory mousse and use leaves to add a peppery tang to salads. Johnny-Jump-Ups make lovely garnishes and decorations and have a faint wintergreen taste that can be used in salads, drinks and soups.

The dainty star-shaped, sky-blue flowers of borage add a cool cucumbery flavor to the salad. Use in punches, lemonade, and sorbets. Chive blossoms, in lavender-pink, have a subtle onion flavor that goes well with salads, eggs and potatoes.

The bright yellow and orange flowers of calendulas, which prefer the cooler days of spring and fall, have a spicy, tangy, peppery flavor and add a golden hue to foods. Pull out the flower petals and add them to salads, rice dishes, eggs and cheese.

Bachelor’s buttons have a sweet to spicy, clove-like flavor and are used as a garnish. Carnations have a spicy, peppery, clove-like flavor. Use the surprisingly sweet petals in desserts.

English lavender has a sweet, floral flavor. Flowers look beautiful and are tasty with chocolate cake or as a garnish for sorbets or ice creams. The flavor of lilacs varies from plant to plant. They are very fragrant, but slightly bitter, with a distinct lemony taste. Use the newly opened blooms to add their sweet fragrance to cookies, cakes and salads.

Daylilies bloom in yellow, orange, red and many shades in between. Each blossom lasts only a day, but the plants bloom so profusely that they are attractive for a long time.

They are valued for their delicate flavor that is sweet and crunchy, like a crisp lettuce leaf. Pick daylily flowers in the afternoon. Wash them in cool water and pat them dry to use in soups and stir fries or tossed in a salad.

Do be cautious about eating flowers. Allergic reactions are always possible with any new food, so sample sparingly the first time you try any edible flower. It is possible that people who suffer from hay fever will have a bad reaction from the pollen, so it may be best to skip the edible flowers.

For best flavor, use flowers at their peak. Flowers that are faded or wilted will taste bitter. Perk up your summer salads and hot dishes with some of these edible flowers.

If you choose seeds or starts of these plants this spring, you will be harvesting their tasty flowers later this spring and summer.