The Spring Vegetable Garden

Friday, March 10th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now from nursery starts. Begin your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, chard and onions. It pays to grow your own!
    • Potatoes can be planted this month. Plant red, white, yellow, blue and russet for a variety of uses and flavors.
    • Raspberry, blackberry, loganberry, and boysenberry vines should be planted now for delicious, home-grown berries.
    • Prune wisteria trees and vines by cutting out unwanted long runners and removing old seed pods. Don’t damage flower buds that are clustered at the end of short branches.
    • Fruit trees are still available as bare-root trees, but only for a short while longer. Start your orchard now!

The Spring Vegetable Garden

A few lovely, warm spring days finally give us the chance to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. And what better way to enjoy it than to set out some spring vegetable plants in your garden or raised beds. The warm days and chilly nights that we get this time of year are perfect for many delicious vegetables.

You can now set out seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, onions, chard, sugar snap peas and lettuce. From seed you can start beets, carrots, Swiss chard, lettuce, peas and spinach.

Cabbage and broccoli are members of the cole family. “Cole” is the Old English word for cabbage and is the name given to a group of vegetables that share a common ancestry and a family preference for cool weather. Other garden relatives include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collards, turnips, radishes, bok choy and baby bok choy.

Seeing these plants side by side, you might find it hard to see what cabbages have in common with kohlrabi or broccoli. But the diverse appearance of cole family members comes from a single remarkable family trait — the ability to thicken various plant parts. Thus the kohlrabi has thickened stems; broccoli has thickened immature flowering branches; turnips and radishes have thickened roots; and with cabbage, the thickening forms the heads.

Lettuce also needs cool weather to be at its best. There are many different kinds of lettuce: looseleaf has tender, delicate, and mildly flavoured leaves; butterheads, also called Boston or buttercrunch, form loose heads; romaine, also called cos, grows in a long head of sturdy leaves and crispheads, also called iceberg, forms tight, dense heads. Leaves come in various shades of red and green. You can set out plants and plant seeds at the same time to have successive crops this spring.

Root crops grow well in the spring also. Carrots are easy to start in the cool, spring weather. Carrot seeds are tiny and germinate best in damp soil when the soil temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees. Beets, onions, radishes and turnips all grow very rapidly in the spring.

Peas are perhaps the most popular spring vegetable. There’s nothing quite so sweet and delicious as fresh garden peas. Dwarf varieties grow 18 to 24 inches tall and stand best with some support. The tall varieties grow 6 to 8 feet high and need poles or string, or wire trellises to climb. You can grow shelling peas or edible-pod varieties, also known as sugar peas, or the flat edible-pod varieties known as snow peas, popular in Asian cooking.

Take advantage of this nice spring weather and start your vegetable garden producing now.

A beautiful garden starts now: Memorial Day means gardening for many

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Set out zinnias, cosmos, impatiens and begonias for lots of colorful flowers all summer long.
    • Asparagus plants should be fed with good, rich compost when you have finished cutting spears. Keep the bed mulched and weed-free all summer, and the soil moist.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus”, or diatomaceous earth sprinkled around the plants, or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of insecticidal soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • When you plant your vegetable garden, why not grow a little extra to donate to the Willits Food Bank this summer.

A beautiful garden starts now:
Memorial Day means gardening for many

It’s Memorial Day weekend and that means gardening for many people. Spend a bit more time getting your garden off to a good start and reap the benefits all season long. Proper planting and care means less maintenance, fewer pests and more produce and beautiful flowers in your landscape.

Start by selecting healthy plants and keep in mind that bigger is not always better. Look for compact plants with sturdy stems and good green color.

Prepare the soil before planting. Using organic matter is the best way to improve soil. Compost, manures, leaf mold, sawdust, and organic amendments increase the water-holding capacity, aeration, and drainage of both sandy and clay soils. These materials are decomposed by soil organisms releasing nutrients that become available to the plants. Dig one or two inches of compost, or other organic matter and a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer into the top 8 inches of the soil.

Now slide, don’t pull, the plants out of their containers to avoid damaging their roots and stems. If they resist, gently squeeze small flexible pots or roll larger pots on their sides over the ground. This loosens the roots, releasing the pot from the container.

Gently loosen any roots that encircle the root ball. Or use a knife to slice through girdling roots. This encourages the roots to move out into the soil beyond the planting hole. And a bigger root system means healthier plants that are more productive and beautiful.

Set your plants at the same depth they were growing in their container. Tall leggy tomatoes are the exception. These can be planted deeper or in shallow trenches to encourage roots to form along the buried stem. Cover the roots with soil and gently tamp to insure good soil contact.

It’s a good idea to throw a handful of bonemeal in the bottom of the hole when you plant your tomatoes. This will help prevent blossom-end rot, a condition where the bottom side of the tomato turns black.

Plant beans in a row or wide-row planting. Bush beans take up more space but require less work planting, staking, weeding and watering. They produce most of the crop all at once, which is great for freezing. Pole beans are space savers and you don’t have to bend over to harvest them. They mature later than bush beans and bear small amounts each day but will keep producing all summer long if you keep the mature beans picked.

Plant your corn patch in a spot that receives sun all day, with good, rich soil. Corn is wind pollinated. The pollen drops from the tassels on top of the plant onto the silks on the ears of corn. Each unpollinated silk results in an undeveloped kernel. For good pollination, plant corn in blocks of at least 4 rows rather than one or two long rows.

Water new plantings thoroughly, moistening the rootball, planting hole, and beyond. Spread a thin layer of mulch over the soil to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and keep the roots cooler when hot weather arrives.

Check new plantings every other day and water enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Gradually reduce the frequency until your plants only need to be watered once a week in heavy clay soils and twice a week in loamy soils.

So get out and start planting to make this the best gardening season yet.

Squash, anyone?

Friday, May 13th, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant an herb garden in a container near the kitchen door for convenient fresh spices like basil, oregano, parsley and thyme.
    • Calibrachoa, or Million Bells, look like miniature petunias and come in many unusual shades and blends. Plant them in full sun for a profusion of flowers from spring to frost.
    • Hang codling moth traps in apple trees to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year. Be sure to use a fresh pheromone (attractant).
    • Colorful Gerberas with their large, daisy flowers are a standout in containers. Water them infrequently and give them plenty of sun for flowers all summer.
    • Tomatoes and peppers can be set out now. Choose new hybrids or heirlooms for the flavors that you love.

Squash, anyone?

The squash family provides us with such a wide variety of vegetables that differ so greatly in size and shape that it is sometimes hard to believe that they are related. They are divided into two groups: summer squash and winter squash.

Summer squash are dominated by the ever popular zucchini. Available now in both green and yellow as well as black, gray and striped, they each have a slightly different flavor and each have their followers.

Other summer squashes include scalloped squash or Patty Pan or sometimes Scallopini. This easy-to-grow and prolific squash is round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges, and white, yellow or green in color.

Round bush zucchini has numerous ball-shaped fruit that are perfect for stuffing. And the well-known yellow crookneck is a delicious squash. Plants will bear continuously when regularly harvested at 5 to 6 inches long.

Summer squash are wonderful picked fresh from the garden, but the fruit can only be stored for 1 to 2 weeks. So-called winter squash are types that develop a hard shell and can be stored for many months and used throughout the winter.

Winter squash include varieties such as Butternut, Buttercup, Spaghetti, Acorn, Delicata and Banana.

Acorn squash is a winter squash with distinctive ridges and sweet, yellow-orange flesh. The most common type is dark green in color and it is a handy smaller size for baking.

Banana squash is the king of squashes growing up to 4 feet long and anywhere from 10 – 70 pounds, though they average between 10 and 20. It has an elongated shape, with light pink or orange skin and bright orange flesh and will provide dozens of winter meals.

Buttercup squash has a turban-shape (a flattish top and dark green skin) and deep-orange flesh with a sweet and mild flavor.

Butternut is one of the most popular varieties. They have a smooth, long-necked bowling pin shape with tender flesh that offers a creamy flavor. This old favorite offers fine eating and consistent flavor.

Delicata, also known as the sweet potato squash, is creamy and sweet with a mild aroma. Oblong and cylindrical, it is creamy-yellow with green, sometimes orange, vertical stripes.

Hubbard squash is a large dark blue to green squash with a tear-drop shape, very hard and bumpy skin and tender yellow flesh with a rich flavor. There is also a golden-skinned variety.

Spaghetti squash have a hard rind, and unique flesh that separates into strings when cooked for a “spaghetti”-like dish. It makes a low-calorie substitute for pasta.
Make room for some new varieties of squash in your garden and enjoy their many flavors all summer and through the winter months.