Soil to Table: Homegrown Asparagus

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Growing your own asparagus can be extremely rewarding. Along with growing a delicious vegetable, you’ll also be adding an ornamental element to your vegetable garden. After harvest, the shoots become a soft, green ferny mass that provide a lovely backdrop to your summer edibles.

Right now we have some ‘Jersey Knight’ and ‘Sweet Purple’ bare root asparagus crowns in bundles of 6 for just $6.99 each.

jerseyknightpic‘Jersey Knight’ is a patented male hybrid with few female plants. The male plants spend less energy producing seeds and put more energy toward growing spears. Jersery Knight has excellent fusarium tolerance and a high resistance to rust. (Photo courtesy of Weeks Berry Nursery)

asparagus_Purple‘Sweet Purple’ has twenty-percent sugar content, and can be eaten raw. It’s delicious on salads! The spears are larger, more tender and less stringy. All in all a great new selection. (Photo courtesy of Weeks Berry Nursery)

Here are a few tips from our staff that will help you get your asparagus off to a strong start…

Soil Prep:

Asparagus like loose, rich soil with an average PH of 6.5-7. To achieve this, in Whatcom’s typically acidic, heavy-clay soil you may need to do a little amending. Good drainage is of paramount importance to a healthy asparagus bed.

Raised beds are an excellent option for asparagus. Whether you’re planting in-ground, or a raised bed, we’d recommend an application of Gardener and Bloome ‘Harvest Supreme’, at least 3 inches… It contains rich nutrients such as bat guano and kelp meal, including some manure which asparagus loves, as well as a little lime to balance the PH of your soil. If you’ve really got some tough clay, consider combining that with some of the ‘Soil Building Compost’ from Gardener and Bloome. Just to be sure your new bed is draining well.

As you can tell, asparagus have pretty specific needs and they are heavy feeders. So before you plant, mix in some of Gardener and Bloome’s ‘Tomato, Herb and Vegetable’ Fertilizer, which contains bone meal among other nutritive amendments.

Now that you’ve prepped your soil, here come’s the fun part. Planting!

Planting:

You want to plant your crowns about 12-18 inches apart. Asparagus like to have space. So, with that in mind, dig enough 4-6 inch deep trenches to accommodate all your crowns. Place your crowns at the bottom of the trench, spread the roots out and cover with 2-3 inches of soil.

Care and Maintenance:

As the asparagus grows, keep the crowns moist, and continue to cover with soil until you’ve filled and mounded the trench a bit.

A Note on Weeding- Asparagus plants can’t take the competition when it comes to weeds. Try to keep that bed fairly weed free, to prevent them from having to struggle for light, nutrients etc.

Here’s where the patience comes in…As the little tips poke out of the ground that first year, you’ll want to harvest. DO NOT HARVEST YOUR ASPARAGUS THE FIRST YEAR. They need to build up a sufficient root mass to carry them through the winter. They need every spear to pull in whatever nutrients they can. So, leave them alone. Watch them flower and create lovely, ferny green puffs.

When they have gone to flower and later turned brown, you can cut them down and throw them on your compost pile.

When winter comes, cover them with a nice thick layer of compost, about 3 inches. Give them some more fertilizer in early spring the following year.

Tony says, don’t forget to mark where your asparagus is. It’s too easy to forget, and risk digging up your carefully nurtured crowns. As he learned at his first year at Cascade Cuts, when he dug up an overgrown area that turned out to be their asparagus patch!

Harvest:

In the second year, when you get some nice fat spears, that are about 6-8 inches high, you can go ahead and harvest. Don’t wait until they are 12 inches high, they may bolt, and they won’t be nearly as tender. Even in the second year, you want to harvest lightly, for only about 3 weeks. Only harvest the spears about as big as your thumb. In July, let them bolt. You can go crazy the third year, we promise.

We hope these tips are helpful to you while planting your asparagus this winter. If you have any questions, as always, call us at the store: 676-5480. We love to talk veggies!

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Soil to Table: Grow your own Garlic

cooking with garlic

Garlic is a flavorful and hearty ingredient in home-cooking. Originating in Central Asia, garlic has been utilized for both culinary and medicinal purposes all over the world. Now that Halloween is around the corner, I’m sure many of you will be thinking of its repellent properties. If only it worked on deer right?

There is nothing quite like the flavor of homegrown garlic. Right now at our store, we’ve got Kim’s beautiful Italian garlic bulbs grown out at our farm ready to plant. For those of you who are new to garlic farming, here are some F.A.Q. to guide you through planting to your first garlic crop next fall.

What kind of garlic should I plant?

Be sure when shopping for garlic to choose a healthy bulb. It should be firm when you squeeze it. You wouldn’t want to plant rotten cloves.

Where should I plant it?

You want your garlic to be high and dry through the winter rains. Raised beds are a good choice or anywhere that the soil drains freely. Also, try to site it where it will get a good amount of sun throughout the day, especially afternoon sun.

garlic shoots

Do I need to amend the soil?

We recommend that you add some of Gardener and Bloome’s ‘All Purpose’ Fertilizer when planting. Dig it in well, to the first six inches of soil. Don’t add too much, be sure to follow the directions for application rate.

The main requirement as we discussed above is that your garlic have drainage. If the soil where you intend to plant is soggy, you’ll want to amend it with something like Gardener and Bloome’s ‘Soil Building Compost’.

How deep do I plant it?

In our damp climate we recommend not planting more than one to two inches down. You are measuring from the top of the clove. Also, give them six to eight inches of space between each clove.

garlic scapesWhat do I do with the seedheads?

While garlic scapes are quite pretty, now is not the time to be sentimental. As soon as you see a seedhead forming. Go ahead and pull it off. This will re-direct the energy of the plant toward the bulbs.

Do I need to water my garlic?

Other than the initial watering-in, you won’t need to water your garlic through the fall to the spring. Unless we should get an unseasonable spate of dry weather. Garlic don’t need a ton of water. Use your judgement, if the soil feels moist, you don’t need to water. In the fall, once harvest approaches, cut back on the watering.

How do I fertilize them?

When you first plant and then again in the spring, after the last frost you can start fertilizing your garlic every few weeks with a high nitrogen liquid fertilizer such as ‘Daniel’s Plant Food’ until they begin to bulb.

When can I harvest my garlic?

Garlic are similar to potatoes in the sense that they will let you know when it’s time to harvest. Their leaves will turn brown and die back to the ground in the early autumn. Then you can break out your shovel and start digging.

garlic harvest

If the weather is warm and dry you can leave the bulbs on the ground. If the weather feels uncertain, bring them inside and hang them up or place them on a screen to dry. Now the fun comes. Try a recipe like this or this or this. Or if you’ve still got basil, why not make some fresh pesto?

Susy Hymas: Teacher, Foodie and Master Preserver

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We’re very excited to say that Susy Hymas, Master Food Preserver, will be teaching a class on the Basics of Canning this coming Saturday, September 7th.

Formerly the coordinator of Whatcom County’s Master Food Preserver program, Susy owns her own business, ‘Daylight Harvest Foods‘. She teaches classes on food preservation, locally and in surrounding counties, as well as nutritional classes at Bellingham Technical College. Susy says that she enjoys meeting people who are excited to learn and being able to share what she knows about food.

Susy-Hymas

We asked Susy what got her started canning. She says in part, it’s her food culture. She grew up eating her grandmother’s canned goods, and later on, inherited her canning equipment.

I’m just a foodie who likes to preserve the harvest” Susy told us. She sees canning and preserving as a way to eat more locally. And wouldn’t we all like to do that?

If you want to join in on the fun this Saturday, call our store to register: 360-676-5480. Class fee is $5.

 

 

Summertime means…Blueberries!

Right now we’ve got loads of mouth-watering blueberry bushes in our nursery just loaded with berries. That got us thinking, why doesn’t everyone grow blueberries?

Blueberry shrubs are easy to grow, and their lovely green leaves tipped with pink are a striking addition to the garden. And if that weren’t enough, you get delicious berries in the summer to add to smoothies, pancakes, muffins…or just pop in your mouth right off the bush!

1,2,3….Blueberries!

#1: Choose a well-drained site, and amend the soil with a rich compost mix such as Harvest Supreme by Gardner and Bloome

#2: When planting, set the top soil line of the plant about 1-2 inches higher than the existing ground. Water in well.

#3: Mulch your berries! Give them 2-4″ of mulch to conserve moisture and prevent weeds. We suggest Gardner and Bloome’s Soil Building Compost.

#4: This is tough HOWEVER our plant buyer Kim advises pruning all the fruits and blooms the first year you plant your blueberry. This way the plant can focus its energy getting a root system established, and you’ll have a lot more berries in years to come.

#5: Fertilize with an acid fertilizer such as Gardner and Bloome’s ‘Rhododendron, Azalea and Camellia’ fertilizer.

Harvest Time

When you’re ready to harvest, here’s a great dessert recipe from the staff here at Garden Spot.

Garden Spot Blueberry Crispy:

Ingredients

  • 6 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix your washed berries in with 1 TB flour and 1TB lemon juice. Pour into your oven proof dish, the rectangular glass ones work great. Mix up the rest of the ingredients and crumble evenly over the top of your blueberry mixture. Bake for apx. 30 minutes or until the top has browned and the blueberries are bubbling over.

Enjoy! This goes great with ice cream. Yummy!

DON’T MISS- All of our shrubs are 20% off through Wednesday, and that most definitely include blueberries. Happy Shopping!

Soil to Table: Our Top Ten Tips for Tasty Tomatoes

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.”

Ahh tomatoes. Their bright flesh and sun-kissed flavor are irresistible. Unfortunately, for us in the Northwest, our rainy weather and clay soil can make tomato farming challenging to say the least. Never fear! Our staff has put together their top ten tips to get your tomatoes off to a great start.

 

#1: Location

Tomato vines originated in South America. Think sun, sun, sun when siting your tomatoes. A south facing wall is a great location. Tomatoes need at least six-eight hours of sun per day to thrive. Hot afternoon sun is fantastic. Morning sun too, if you can get it.

Tomatoes don’t like to sit in water, so avoid low spots in the garden. Raised beds are also a good way to go. If you’re using containers, make sure they are big enough for your tomatoes; at least 5 gallons per tomato plant. This gives your tomatoes more space for their roots, and you won’t have to water quite as often.

Finally, practice crop rotation, don’t plant tomatoes in the same area year after year. This will decrease the likelihood of disease. Try to wait for three years before re-planting them in the same spot.

 #2: Soil Prep

Think of tomatoes as the roses of the edible world. You want two things from the soil. You want it to be rich and you want it to be well draining. If you have heavy clay, dig some Harvest Supreme Compost in there and don’t be shy. You want the water to run right through. Dig deep and really fluff up the soil.

Harvest Supreme is a fantastic product for tomato growers because it’s full of nutrient rich ingredients such as bat guano and kelp meal and even a little lime. Lime does two really great things for our garden soil.

First of all, it balances the PH in our local soil, which tends to be acidic. (If you’re not sure what sort of PH your soil has, consider doing a soil test.) Tomatoes prefer a PH of 6.0-6.8.

Secondly, it adds calcium to the soil, a nutrient that will help prevent issues with blossom end rot. This disease causes dark, leathery lesions on your beautiful fruit among other problems.

 #3: Food

Always put down a good organic fertilizer such as Gardner and Bloome’s ‘Tomato, Vegetable and Herb’ Fertilizer. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and this will ensure your tomatoes are getting plenty of the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as well as trace elements necessary to their growth which are not present in inorganic fertilizers.

A word of caution: when applying fertilizer, read the package carefully and use the correct proportions. Too much fertilizer can be harmful to your plants.

 #4: Selection

When selecting your tomatoes, consider your space and your intentions. Will you choose a determinate or indeterminate tomato? Determinate tomatoes are shorter and bushier. Their fruits tend to ripen all at the same time, definitely an advantage if you plan to do any canning. Indeterminate tomatoes grow tall and vigorously and will ripen over a long season. Perfect for impromptu garden snacking.

Northwest gardeners we recommend you choose a variety that ripens early or has smaller fruits. Consider varieties bred for cold regions like the Russian heirloom ‘Black Prince’. Or try some cultivated specifically for our area such as ‘Early Girl’.

Grape and cherry tomatoes are fantastic because they almost always ripen even in the grayest of summers. Our current favorite is the luscious ‘Sungold’ cherry tomato, bright orangey-yellow with fantastic flavor, Marcy calls it “garden candy”.

There are a lot of options out there, even for container gardeners such as ‘Patio’ or ‘Tumbling Tom’. Although the larger tomatoes can be tempting, the fact is that without a greenhouse, you are going to have a heck of a time ripening varieties like ‘Beefsteak’.  With the array of hybrids and heirlooms out there to choose from, such as the luscious ‘Lemon Boy’…you won’t feel like you’re missing out one bit!

 #5: Spacing

Give your tomatoes room to grow when you plant them. A determinate tomato will need about two square feet of space, and an indeterminate tomato about two and half feet. Good air circulation around your tomato will also help prevent blight.

#6: Staking

When you plant your tomatoes make sure to get your staking apparatus in place first. You’ll want to be able to train it up as it grows. Even the determinate tomatoes will thrive better given some support. For those wild and woolly indeterminate tomatoes, try putting in six – eight foot tall stakes.  Given the right conditions, they will use every inch of that vertical space!

Some of you may be using some of the red plastic tomato greenhouses that we carry at our store. Good idea! A word of caution though- our plant buyer Kim says not close it off during the day. This will make it too hot for your tomato and cook it. You need that ventilation on a sunny day. It is perfectly fine to close it up in the evening, just make sure to open them again in the morning.

#7: Planting

Here’s an old farmer’s trick. When planting your tomatoes be sure to plant them deep. Take off the side shoots up to at least halfway on the plant, if not ¾ of the way.  Lay it sideways, and plant all the way up to the first few sets of leaves.  This method allows more horizontal roots to grow out sideways. The better the root system, the better your tomato can take up water and food.

If your tomato plant comes with a few blossoms on it, pinch those off before you plant the tomato. The energy that goes to fruiting and flowering is the same energy that goes to rooting. It’s very important that your tomato have a strong root system, so that it can make the most of our limited sunlight. Prune the blossoms right away. This gives your tomato time to get established and later it will set more blossoms.

#8: Watering

Thirsty, thirsty, thirsty tomatoes. Young tomatoes need plenty of water to drink. Be generous, but water at the base of the tomato. Water on the leaves can lead to blight. Additionally, keep your watering consistent. This again, will help to prevent blossom end rot.

Tomatoes in the ground will need to be soaked at least once a week in the summer. (Keep in mind whether you have heavy soil or sandy soil will determine the frequency with which you water.) Remember, tomatoes don’t like to sit in water, so be sure the water is draining through. Container growers, you will likely need to water once a day during the warm season.

Stop watering your tomatoes in mid-August. This will kick in the plant’s survival instincts and the fruit on the vine will ripen more quickly.

 #9: Pruning

Keep those leaves off the ground! This is your best defense against the dreaded tomato blight. You want approximately ten to twelve clear inches of space between the leaves and the ground.

This next technique is less important for the determinate tomatoes, though can be used in moderation. On your indeterminate tomatoes you’ll notice suckers growing where a mature leaf and the stem join together. These are your tomato plant trying to grow new plants. Pinch those right off, starting below the first set of blossoms. You want to focus the energy in the main stalk.

Don’t be afraid of pruning your tomato. A healthy, vigorous plant can handle it and you’ll get better results.  When your tomato plant starts to bear fruit, you can prune back some of the blossoming branches, thus assuring that those tomatoes which are left will ripen.

 #10: Have Fun

Fun is the most important ingredient to home gardening…it’s not the soil or the sunshine or even the fertilizer. It’s the care we give to our plants and what we reap in return that makes all the hard work worthwhile. We’d love to know, how do you grow your tomatoes? What are your top tomato tips?

As they say in this old country song, “There’s only one thing money can’t buy, that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.” Happy Harvesting!

Don't miss our Canning Basics class this Fall with Susy Hymas of Daylight Harvest Foods

 

 

 

 

 

Soil to Table: Growing Great Potatoes

Spring is in the air. Tulips are blooming, birds are singing and many of you are likely thinking: “Isn’t it time to put in my seed potatoes?”

If you’re one of those gardeners, we have a few tips for you that will give you a good crop of tasty potatoes.

Potatoes

#1: Soil Preparation

Wait until your soil is friable in the spring and there is little risk of frost. The best potato yields come from light, fertile, well-draining soil. If you have the heavy clay that is common in most of Whatcom County…you’ll want to dig in some compost that will break up those heavy clumps. We usually recommend Gardner and Bloome’s Soil Building Compost in this situation.

Potatoes prefer a PH of 5.2-6.8. Fortunately for us in the NW our soil tends to be acidic. But keep in mind if you’ve just limed an area of your garden, this is not the place to plant your new potatoes.

#2: Planting

A lot of customers ask whether they should cut up their potatoes before planting. In the case of smaller seed potatoes, this is not necessary. If you do have larger potatoes, cut them in halves or thirds. You want two to three eyes per section. The “eyes” are the sprout starts that you’ll see growing out of small dimples in the potato. Be sure to let them dry out overnight before planting.

There are many ways to plant your potatoes. You can use garbage cans, burlap bags and many other techniques. For the purpose of brevity we’ll describe the mounding method, which can be easily translated to containers.

Dig a hole a half-foot deep and one and a half feet across. Make a bit of a mound at the bottom of the hole, and plant 1-2 potatoes four to five inches apart and several inches deep. Make sure the entire potato is covered, if it’s not already raining, give them a little water to get started.

#3: Grow

During the warm season, water your potatoes at least once a week. When they’ve sprouted and are approximately six inches above the soil, mound several more inches of soil on top. Never cover the growing tips completely. The potatoes will send out more horizontal roots and as a result, you’ll have a much bigger crop. Do this twice more, in 2-3 week increments.

The application of a liquid fertilizer, such as Daniel’s Plant Food on the foliage will increase your yield. You can start this when you do your first mounding and continue every couple weeks until the plants start to bloom.

#4: Harvest

harvest

We hope you’ve also planted some peas, because once your potatoes start to blossom, you will be able to enjoy new potatoes which are excellent with fresh garden peas. Put on some gloves and dig gently around the roots for a few new potatoes. Don’t get too carried away, or you’ll miss out later.

At the end of the summer, once the stalks die back to the ground, you can break out your potato fork and have at it! Remember: No stabbing the potatoes!

One Last Note: If you’re planning to store your potatoes through the winter, let them sit in the ground for a couple weeks after the potato vines are done. This will “toughen” their skins.