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future garden plants and food for my table

 

Several zucchini squashes got away from me last autumn. I harvested a few in September and the final one as frost threatened in late October. Until two days ago, all three were still with me.

I no longer think of zucchini as just a summer vegetable. I made a video to share my experience. What do you think? Are you ready to grow zucchini as winter squash?

volunteer dill seedlings

In 2007 I bought Mammoth Dill seeds and scattered them in a three-foot space in my garden. The plants thrived and three years later, the great grandchildren of those seeds emerged with weeds in early spring. I’ve had “volunteer” dill plants every growing season since that fateful first planting.

Dill is one of the most distinctive herbs you’re likely to grow. Many herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme, fennel, sage, and cilantro contribute to flavor combinations more often than they stand on their own. Consider packaged seasoning mixes labeled Italian Seasoning and Poultry Seasoning—both distinctive for the combinations of herbs they contain. Cilantro often punctuates heavily seasoned Mexican dishes and Indian curries.

It’s less common for a recipe to combine dill with other herbs. Rather, potato salad, salad dressings, marinades, and soups feature dill; instead of blending, it becomes a prominent flavor in the dishes it seasons.

Dill is one of the easiest food plants you might ever try to grow. In fact, it’s so hardy and eager that after the first season you plant it, it may appear year after year in your garden and you won’t need to plant it again.

Photo captions provide more information. You can grow that!

dill plant

Maturing dill plants resemble nothing else I grow in my home kitchen garden. To me their stems look vaguely similar to bamboo while their leaves are more like ferns. A Mammoth Dill plant can grow four or five feet tall.

flowering dill plant

A dill plant puts up one main flower head comprised of dozens of tiny florets. Given time, the plant may produce all kinds of additional flower heads. Many dill pickle recipes call for you to add a full head to each pickle jar—you can use a head in full bloom, one that is just budding, or one at any stage in between.

dill plant gone to seed

When a dill plant finishes putting out seed heads, the plant dies and the seeds dry. This head has already dropped quite a few seeds and the ones remaining would be adequate to start a small dill plantation. The dozen or so other heads on the plant also dropped seeds. Dill seeds sprout when they’re damp; they don’t care if there’s soil covering them. They don’t wait for warm weather. They are among the first things to sprout (along with weeds) in spring. If you’re just starting to garden and you want to build confidence, plant dill. You can grow that.

Find More You Can Grow That Blogs

You Can Grow That is a celebration of gardening. Find other participating blogs at the website, www.youcangrowthat.com.

 

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My home kitchen garden is livelier this year than in any other November. That’s because I set up hoop tunnels over my lettuce and pak choi, and my salad patch is growing strong. All the other annual food plants are down for the count.

Still, wanting to participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (read about Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens), I searched every corner of my yard for what’s still in bloom. There’s not much. The photos tell the story.

chrysanthemum

Through spring flower-appropriate holidays, a family in my neighborhood sets up huge tents in 12 department store parking lots throughout central Pennsylvania and sells lilies, hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, daffodils, hyacinths, and other potted plants. When the season ends, the family collects whatever didn’t sell, sets it all out on their driveway, and invites passersby to take what they want. This one sat on my front porch all summer and still doesn’t know whether it’s going into a planting bed. Mums generally survive winter here, but they’ve failed to woo me into giving them the chance.

late season rose

Amazingly, even after several 26 degree nights, there are still viable rose blossoms in my new rose bed. Because most of the blossoms have frozen and look terrible, the rose patch is pretty sketchy. I might best to have harvested the few undamaged blossoms and set them indoors in a vase.

dandelion blossom

I expected to find a few dandelion flowers in my yard, but it took me one and quarter turns around the house before I spotted this one low in the grass. I eventually spotted another, but how many dandelions have already appeared in Bloom Day posts over the years?

heath aster in autumn

As long as we’re looking at weeds, I included a shot of this one. I believe it’s a Heath Aster, and it hasn’t noticed the cold. Meadows around here naturally fill up with asters, thistle, and goldenrod. Of course they all wish my yard and garden were a meadow, and they often try to make it so.

holly flowers

While the other flowering plants in my yard are shutting down, the decorative holly bush is just starting to flower. Clumps of blossoms seem particularly abundant this fall. It makes me wonder whether the number of blossoms relates to the severity of the coming winter. If more blossoms equals more winter, this winter should be a doozy.

 

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It’s autumn! Granted, we’re a month past peak leaf-peeping season, but winter is still more than a month away. Happily, I didn’t let peak season slip past; I spent several hours across many days capturing autumn scenes in Pennsylvania farm country. The collection here represents my neighborhood at its best: rolling farmland that blends with undeveloped countryside.

autumn colors at dusk

A clump of trees along Route 15, Lewisburg’s “major” highway, burned every shade from yellow to red, and caught the last rays of sunlight on a gorgeous evening in late October.

colorful treeline and meadow

I favor evening light for landscape photography mostly because I’ve become a night owl going to bed just a few hours before sunrise. A scene as basic as a view across a farm field gone wild dances with light, shadow, and textures in the reddened sunlight near dusk.

nearly dusk over the farm

Pretty sure the field in this photo holds corn stubble. The farmer harvested mature corn plants when leaves were green and ears were beginning to dry. The harvesting machine chopped up the plants, and the farmer stored the resulting mulch-like material either in a silo, or in a heap on the ground. Cows love corn plants and are happy to eat them fresh, or fermented — and fermentation is a key factor in making silage. Just as we might ferment vegetables to preserve them for storage (think sauerkraut which is fermented cabbage), fermenting shredded corn plants preserves them so they’ll last through the winter. Silage exposed to air spoils, so a farmer must draw off the top three or four inches each day and feed it to livestock.

farm road through the corn in autumn

An overgrown gravel drive leads into a stand of trees surrounded by a field of corn. This is feed corn. The farmer leaves it to dry until the kernels are hard — just like the corn seed you plant in your garden. Machines can harvest and shuck the ears, or they can harvest, shuck, and remove the corn from the cobs. Cows, horses, and other farm animals are happy to eat the dried corn – with or without the cobs.

farms everywhere

Most farms in central Pennsylvania began as family homesteads. Each is within reasonable walking distance of neighboring farms, so from high ground you can see dozens of barns and farm houses scattered across the landscape.

skeleton of a dead tree against a hillside of fall colors

In direct, late afternoon autumn sun, a hedgerow pops behind a farmer’s feed corn crop.

You can find a slideshow that includes these images and more at Your Small Kitchen Garden blog. Follow this link.
 

bean flower

Give your bean plant experiment a chance to grow up and it will eventually reward you with some of the most unusual blossoms you’ll ever see. Different bean varieties produce different colors of blossoms. I’ve seen white, yellow, and purple in my own garden.

Have you ever sprouted a bean seed? Every one of my kids did this in preschool, and I remember sprouting beans in grade school. At some arts festivals and county fairs, I’ve seen booths where you could plant a bean seed and take it home to watch it grow. Maybe you’ve sprouted a bean seed?

Amazingly, bean seeds will sprout even under somewhat unnatural conditions. For example, the seed I started in grade school was in a clear plastic cup. We folded a piece of paper towel into a strip, rolled it into a cylinder, and lined the cup with it. Then we wet the paper, shoved the bean seed between the paper and the wall of the cup, and set it on a windowsill. We watched roots grow down while stem and leaves grew up.

Bean Plants can be So Much More

starting a bean in a cup

Who didn’t do something like this in preschool, grade school, or at a science fair? My kids brought home beans planted in soil, but I prefer this approach; it ensures that you’ll see roots, stem, and leaves as the plant starts growing.

I’d be willing to bet that most people who have sprouted beans have never seen their bean plants grow up. Let’s reverse that trend! Make a point in the next growing season to plant some beans in your kitchen garden.

There are bush beans and climbing beans (also known as pole beans). Bush bean plants grow short and nearly support their own weight. They can look like very small shrubs. Climbing bean plants grow long and twist around whatever they find nearby that’s at least as tall as they are; they’re vines. All the climbing bean plants I’ve grown have reached at least 10 feet in length. The photos show what you can look forward to if you plant climbing beans (which I recommend over bush beans in an article titled Canning and Freezing: How Big Should Beans Be?)

No Special Care Required

climbing bean vines

At first, a climbing bean plant looks like a bush bean plant. However, after a climbing bean deploys its second set of leaves, it stretches a leader skyward (left). That leader twists about as it grows longer until it rests against something; then it turns toward whatever it’s touching. When another spot on the leader touches something, the leader turns again at that point and so on.

It doesn’t take long for a climbing bean’s leader to wrap repeatedly around a trellis or neighboring plant. On the right, two leaders wrap around a single upright. In time, the leaf clusters will enlarge and flower stalks will emerge from them.

In hopes of encouraging you: I gave the bean plants in the photographs no special care. Before I planted seeds, I dug an eight-inch circular hole about eight inches deep, filled it halfway with compost, and added back soil I’d removed to make the hole. I tossed the compost and soil to blend it a bit, and then erected a support in the center of the hole. Then I set four seeds around the support.

I watered heavily the day I planted seeds, and kept the soil damp until seeds sprouted. Then, for the remainder of the season, I left the plants alone except when I harvested beans. It’s that easy. You can grow that!

bean-laden trellises

My tripod bean trellises are only eight feet tall; I recommend making yours at least ten feet. Thirty nine days passed from when I photographed the bean sprouts (above) until the beans reached the tops of my trellises. Still nothing to harvest, but the first beans were only two weeks away.

beans ready to harvest

September 1st – two months after planting – my bean plants were covered with ready-to-eat beans as well as flowers that would produce even more beans. A convenient characteristic of bean plants is that they produce an abundant crop in just half a growing season.

You Can Grow That is a loose coalition of garden bloggers encouraging people to garden. Please visit the You Can Grow That website for a list of other participating blogs.

 

Tucson La Paloma lobby

I can’t say that Tucson is more gorgeous than central Pennsylvania, but it is different gorgeous. The view across the bar in the hotel’s main lobby included a peek at craggy arid mountains unlike anything in my neighborhood.

In a post titled Back from the Garden Writers Symposium in Tucson, I reported about my trip to the annual conference held this year in Arizona. I shared photos from the one garden tour I was able to enjoy, and from the gardens along walkways at the hotel. I also explained about the conference’s show floor.

The GWA Symposium draws a decent contingent of garden industry suppliers who set up booths on a show floor in the hotel. GWA members spend nearly eight hours spread over two days visiting the booths and learning from experts about industry products and services. Manny suppliers offer free samples to the garden writers in hopes that we, the writers, will feature those products in our writing.

Report from the Show Floor

I had only a few hours on the show floor near the end of the exhibition. Of course, I scouted for products of special interest to kitchen gardeners.

In the “appeals to all gardeners” category, there were two tool companies that I remember visiting. One, Dramm Corporation, was showing a very colorful collection of tools—especially ones you’d use to water your garden. The other, Corona Tools, was showing ComfortGEL pruners—tools with slightly squishy grips that are supposed to be easy on your hands.

Corona Tools ComfortGEL pruners

I was happy to pick up a pair of pruners from Corona Tools to use in my own gardening. I got a few extra sets as well, and will give them away on my blogs in the near future.

BlackGold products had a place on the show floor. BlackGold is an extensive collection of prepared organic soils and soil amendments—appropriate, I think, especially for apartment dwellers and other folks who need to garden in containers. Even more specifically for container gardeners was a product line called UrBin Grower. This is a planter that maintains airspace between the bottom of the soil and the top of a water reservoir.

LiveWall showed a compelling expression of green wall technology. The planters hold soil in trays that hang on horizontal tracks; plants grow up rather than out. This looks like a green wall a plant would design for itself. A freestanding unit on wheels was particularly compelling. I suspect it could manage a fine salad garden as well as several more demanding vegetables in a very compact space.

30-day DriWater watering gel

This modest tube of squishy gel will keep a potted plant hydrated for 30 days. You may find DriWater in garden centers in coming months.

The most memorable product in the “appeals to all gardeners” category was DriWater. DriWater comes in a squishy clear plastic tube—a lot like brown-and-serve-style sausages. The product is a gel that is 97% water. You use a tube by slitting it open along one side and laying the slit against soil nurturing a plant you want to hydrate for an extended period.

According to the representative, bacteria in the soil digest the gel, releasing water from the package. A single DriWater package can hydrate a container plant for 30 days. Municipal parks workers can set out DriWater units and reduce the number of visits necessary to keep city gardens green.

Seeds from Renee's Garden

Renee’s Garden offered up a few varieties of vegetable seeds I’ve thought of growing over the years. I was happy to bring those home along with others that looked appropriate for next year’s garden plan.

Ornamentals

In the plant category, I saw more ornamentals than I can recall. Some were specific to warm climates and would not survive in central Pennsylvania. Others were hardy enough for my home state. From Encore Azalea, I picked up the Autumn Sunburst which is supposed to blossom repeatedly through the growing season. From Skagit Gardens, I brought home the Kennedy Irish Drumcliff Primrose, hardy to zone 5, and Festuca Beyond Blue—a gorgeous clump of ornamental grass that’s hardy to zone 4.

Flirting with hardiness issues, I found Amistad Salvia from Southern Living. I wish I’d checked the tag because they recommend it for hardiness zones 9 and higher; about 2 zones farther south than it is now. More promising, from Star Roses & Plants, is Flamenco Rose Salvia. This Salvia has pink flowers, and I’d love to have it survive in my garden, but it’s hardy to zone 7—that’ll be hit-or-miss for me.

previously potted plant ready for travel

A great opportunity for garden writers at the Symposium is to get ahold of new types of plants that breeders are introducing. Producers give us free samples to try in our own gardens, and I was happy to try BrazelBerries blueberry and raspberry plants. Plants come potted, and it’s terribly impractical to leave them that way and still lug them home on an airplane. So, I shook soil off the roots of my samples, and packed them into zipper-topped bags. I left an 18 pound bag of potting soil near the door of my hotel room, and brought about two dozen plants home alive.

Finally, on the non-edible side, I picked up a three-pack of Sunrosa rose plants from Suntory. These promise to be covered in red blossoms through most of the growing season.

Edibles

VIVA! Offered up Scentsational Lavender, a variety they told me was on the hardy side of the lavenders. My last lavender plant gave out after three years, and the representative for the VIVA! product told me that was typical of lavender—I’d always thought it was a perennial that lived on the edge in my hardiness zone, but now I have more reasonable expectations for this lovely herb.

My greatest thrills came at two booths. One, Renee’s Garden had two racks of vegetable seeds and invited me to select any I’d like to try in my garden. It’s hard to find space for the seeds I save from my own plants, but I have a significant expansion in mind for next season, so I’m trying a small assortment from Renee’s.

My second thrill came at the BrazelBerries booth. BrazelBerries come from Fall Creek Farm & Nursery and have small habits appropriate for container gardening. The BrazelBerries line includes two varieties of blueberry plants, and one of raspberries and I got samples of each.

BrazelBerries Jelly Bean blueberry plant

Several days after I returned from Tucson, I had planted all of the plant samples. This is the BrazelBerries Jelly Bean blueberry plant, bred for container gardening. While literature that came with the plant recommends it for “large” containers, there’s nothing that says “how large.” I used a 7 gallon planter which is the largest I’ve ever used. If the plant someday looks stressed, I’ll find a place for it in the garden.

Only Time will Tell

With so many live specimens available to try, the challenge for conference goers is to get the plants home. It’s not practical to jam all those flower pots into a suitcase, so I spent an hour at the hotel shaking potting soil off the roots and repacking plants into zipper-topped plastic bags. These I stacked surrounded by clothing in my suitcase—some in a carryon and others in a bag I intended to check. Happily, all the plants came through in fine shape and I’ve since planted them in my garden and on my deck.

I’m excited to see how the plants do, and will share my observations in coming seasons.

Soon: a Giveaway

I happened to reach the Corona Tools booth as vendors were packing to leave. There, my friend Chris gave me a handful of ComfortGEL pruners along with sharpeners to keep them in top form. In an upcoming post, I’ll launch a giveaway of those pruners with instructions for how you can enter to win a set. They feel great in my hand, and I expect to pack some next summer when I head out to pluck suckers in my tomato patch.

Lewisburg Community Garden
Despite thorough weeding on September 5th, my autumn lettuce patch includes quite the assortment of weeds. The seeds for the lettuce patch came from one or more vendors at garden shows I attended in 2011 and early 2012; one packet might even have been a #gardenchat seed mix. If you haven’t participated in #gardenchat, give it a try. Find more about it here: Garden Chat

My kitchen garden is so small that I plant very intensively. By late August, nearly every inch is under vegetable plants, so I rarely add a third planting for cool-weather crops. I got lucky this year.

I had planted onions which matured and begged to be harvested in late summer. In the same patch, at least one carrot plant put out a seed stalk; a clear sign that the roots were mature—perhaps too mature. So, by September 5th, I had a generous space in which to plant fall veggies.

Lettuce, Spinach, and Pak Choi

After harvesting my summer vegetables from my garden annex, I pulled weeds and raked the soil smooth. Then I “broadcast” seeds. That means I threw them on the soil. I put pak choi in one area, mixed lettuce varieties in two areas, and spinach between the others. Then I gently raked the soil to work the seeds in just a bit.

In six weeks, the lettuce and pak choi have done beautifully, and I harvested my first lettuce salad in the spirit of Post Produce! Despite a few nights below freezing, the salad greens are growing beautifully, though shooting photos for this blog post revealed a modest slug population dining on the leaves.

I’ve erected the ribs and spine of a hoop tunnel to provide protection for one of the lettuce patches as nights get colder. I’ll cover it with clear plastic and try to nurse the lettuces along into winter.

Post Produce is a link party hosted by Daniel Gasteiger at Your Small Kitchen Garden blog. Link to your entry at Post-Freeze Post Produce.

Lewisburg Community Garden
I love to use pak choi in stir fry, but it never occurred to me to grow any until this year. My plants are a bit feeble, but still looking very nice; next year I must improve the nutrition of the soil in my garden annex. I didn’t get down low to take this photograph and so was amused when I loaded it on my computer and spotted the slug back under the leaves. Slugs, of course, are what have been making holes in my autumn salad greens.

Lewisburg Community Garden
Looking southeast across the Lewisburg Community Garden reveals a variety of vegetable plants. One border of the garden (visible on the right in the photo) sports dozens of sunflowers.

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania – the town where I live – got a new gardening hotspot this year. Bucknell University turned a chunk of downtown real estate into a community garden. The garden covers what might have been two or three in-town lots and is obviously very popular.

Small Kitchen Gardens within a Garden

The Lewisburg Community Garden includes 22 garden plots available for rent by citizens. These small gardens within a garden vary in dimensions, though they seem roughly to have equal square footage. From the looks of it, all these individual plots are in use.

Each gardener brings unique style to the community garden. Some of the plots have a Square Foot Gardening flavor, while others have more of a post-Neanderthal sensibility. In each, vegetables of many types grow with promise of fine harvests for the community’s gardeners.

Lewisburg Community Garden looking north
In late spring, the new Lewisburg Community Garden was growing vigorously. This view is from outside the garden’s south fence looking north. The land floods periodically so making it a garden rather than housing seems quite sensible.

Garden for the Community

Personnel from Bucknell and community volunteers maintain nearly half of the community garden for charity. What they grow in it goes to a local food bank – and there’s a lot growing there.

Experienced gardeners provide expertise, and it’s clear from the associated blog that many involved parties are learning gardening through this project.

It’s such a joy to see plants emerge and develop in the community garden. I hope this becomes a focal point for people to learn about real food; about how plants convert sunlight into stuff we can eat, and about how homegrown produce is so much better than the processed, packaged stuff crammed onto shelves in the local grocery stores.

Lewisburg Community Garden carrots and squash
The carrots in this section of the garden will eventually go to a food bank as will the summer squashes from the bordering rows. Actually, the summer squash is already producing heavily; you might be able to spot a few yellow fruits among the leaves on the left.

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the fence to my home kitchen garden is open
Fence repairs I completed in the spring restored a barrier impenetrable to rabbits, skunks, raccoons, and woodchucks (unless they decide to climb). One evening, I left a fence panel open for an hour and 45 minutes. Did rodents chow down on my tender garden vegetables? Not exactly …

I’m working in my home kitchen garden. It’s a gorgeous day and I string up a dozen or more tomato plants before I head in to prepare dinner. My plan is to return after dinner and pull the lettuce plants to make way for sweet potatoes; the lettuce has bolted and we’re not going to harvest more of it this season.

So, I leave one panel of my rodent fence open. This provides a four-foot long entrance through a 92 foot perimeter. I’ll be away for an hour or two. A critter that discovers the opening in that amount of time isn’t likely to do much damage before I return.

After Dinner Rabbit Revelation

Cooking, serving, and eating dinner takes about an hour and a half after which I head straight out to my vegetable garden. It amuses me to see a rabbit on the hill about 12 feet from my garden fence; there’s often one there and sometimes two. I’m far less amused to see a second rabbit standing beneath one of my tomato plants.

OK, a rabbit got into the garden. It would take just a moment to scare it out through the open fence panel. But this rabbit doesn’t look scared. In fact, this rabbit looks like it has a tad extra rabbit stuck to its right front leg. As I lean in for a closer look—and we’re talking about eight feet between me and the rabbit—she hops away to the back fence of the garden and freezes, now 14 feet separates us.

Rabbit Mommy moved her brood into my home kitchen garden
While I prepared and ate dinner, Rabbit Mommy found the opening in my garden fence, carried three bunny babies inside, dug a nest under a tomato plant, and paused to nurse her spawn. That’s what she was doing when I spotted her. When I leaned in for a close look, she disengaged from her runtling and hopped to the back of the garden.

But! During the rabbit’s first hop, I noticed that the “tad extra rabbit” I’d seen was a bunny. There are now three bunny faces sticking out of the lawn clipping mulch I’d spread earlier around the tomato plants. There was an unmistakable bulge in the mulch that someone had excavated to build a nest.

Never So Many Rabbits So Quickly

In past years I’ve reported about rabbits reproducing in my home kitchen garden. I really don’t mind when they do that. This is altogether not that! Rabbit Mommy and her three rabbit puppies had not been in my garden when I broke for dinner. I had pounded around among the tomato plants: tying strings to the trellises, wrapping strings around stems, pulling weeds … if the nest had been there, I’d have stomped on rabbit puppies.

In the scant two hours I’d been away, Rabbit Mommy had carried her brood into the garden, hollowed out a nest in the mulch, and moved in! I returned from dinner while Rabbit Mommy was serving up dinner to her offspring.

Rabbit Love

I’m starting to believe that rabbits in my neighborhood covet my kitchen garden not for the food it produces, but for the security that the rodent fence provides. The rabbits have learned that if they’re inside that fence, the only critter likely to bother their babies is me, and I’m a softie. They pass this information down from one generation to the next.

I suspect this rabbit family settled near my raised vegetable bed and waited to pounce. The first time I left a fence panel open, they moved in. The bunnies are already old enough that they could wander around on their own so I suspect they’ll move out soon. I’ll keep watch and when I’m certain they’re no longer in the garden, I’ll close up the narrow gap I left in the fence just for them. With luck, I’ll keep Rabbit Mommy from hatching a new gaggle (in my garden) later this season.

Rabbits that hang out near my home kitchen garden
I see rabbits several times a week around my home kitchen garden. From the photos you might also be able to tell that I don’t mow the lawn a whole lot. Note that the rabbit in the bottom-right photo is sitting on the edge of my rhubarb patch (which is the front edge of my herb garden).

More of my posts about rabbits:

Mid-Summer Rabbits in my Small Kitchen Garden

Sixty Rabbits from Your Small Kitchen Garden