Top 10 Easiest Varieties to Grow by Season

When starting a garden, the options are many. Where to begin? Our experienced gardeners have pulled together the top fruits and veggies (in order of season) we’d suggest.

eastereggradishRadishes – Fall/Winter

Very easy to grow , takes barely a month between sowing seeds and harvest. Seriously. Seeds can be sown every week (even through summer.) The three main types are: round, long and daikon.

Zukeeni’s favorites:

Easter Egg are a mix of pastels, with a zesty crispness

French Breakfast have a somewhat milder spicy flavor

Salad Greens – Winter

There’s nothing tastier than a salad harvested from your own garden. Crispy romaine, soft butter, or fresh baby greens, all are delicious. Pick a favorite or plant all… your salad awaits.

Most popular varieties:

Sweetie Baby Romaine is a fast producer

Rocky Top Lettuce Mix is a great mix of flavors

Green Beans – Winter/Fall

Green beans are easy to grow, harvest and eat! Pole beans grow up walls and fences, perfect for small spaces. Bush beans are shorter, more compact, but provide aplenty.

Best bets:

Blue Lake for tender beans with good flavor

Rolande for a delicate flavor for special dishes

Swiss Chard – Winter

Loaded with vitamins A, K, & C, this is a “nearly-perfect” vegetable. The baby greens are tender enough for salads and its mature leaves can be sautéed or added to soups. It’s not bitter and ideal for “cut-and-come-again” gardening. In temperate climates, it can survive for years.  BREAKING: Swiss Chard, upgraded to perfect!

Zukeeni suggests these:

Rainbow Bright Lights for a fun, colorful plant

Italian Silver Rib for large, flavorful leaves

Borage – Spring

Borage is a favorite. Its beautiful, edible flowers bloom all summer long. It attracts bees (pollinators) and its flavor is mild, think cucumber. Use in salads or as a garnish for cocktails.

Blue Borage is most common, but can also be found in white and pink, how civilized.

tomatoesonvineTomatoes – Summer

There are so many varieties of tomatoes, you’ll never taste them all. #bummer We’re sorry, but no matter what your climate, you’ll be able to find several that grow well. #silverlining

All-Around Pleasers:

Sungold for the sweetest cherry tomatoes

Brandywine for a great slice tomato

Amish Paste for rich tomato sauce

Basil – Summer

Basil got big in the ‘90s. Everyone realized how great it tastes in Italian food. It’s an easy-growing herb and produces all summer long. Use in salads, soups, baked dishes, so many options.

Genovese for the best pesto dishes

Cinnamon for a spicy flavor in salads

Thai Sweet for Asian dishes

strawberryplantStrawberries – Summer

If you’ve ever tasted a homegrown strawberry, the store bought variety will be dead to you. They’re easy to grow, grow pretty much anywhere and once you taste one… trust us.

Chandlers are super sweet

Mingonettes are heat-tolerant

Yellow Wonder Wilds are unique and delicious

 

 

Peppers – Summer

The “spice of life”. Whether you prefer sweet peppers or those with a bite, they’re a must in your garden. They love the summer heat and make a difference in any salad or a kabob.

Rainbow Bell Mix for a colorful assortment

Sweet Banana for salads and grilling

Jalapeño for pizzas and spicy dishes

Summer Squash – Three guesses

Summer squash grows fast and provides delicious fruit all summer. If picked young, it’s tender with a delicate flavor– perfect for grilling, sautéing and stuffing. Sliced thinly, it’s lovely in a salad. Plants can be grown up a trellis or fence, you tell it what to do.

Ronde de Nice for cute little globes

Summer Scallop Trio for UFOs and pattypans

Black Beauty for the classic zucchini

Know when to use seeds vs. starts

6. Know When to Use Seeds Vs. Starts There are both pros and cons to using seeds or starts. Read more and find out which is best for your needs.

Seed

Seeds

  • Starting from seed is more cost effective and allows you to pick unique varieties, but it does require some pre-planning to make sure you get the seeds or starts outdoors at the right time.
  • Temperature is the key to germination, so follow temperature suggestions to try and optimize the range of temperatures a specific plant needs.
  • There are lots of seed starting kits available that really make it easy to set up and get going fast.
  • Plant 3 times the amount you will need to account for non-starters or seeds that dry out.
  • Look for a place where you can give them watchful care to ensure the seeds stay moist and warm.
  • Some plants are a real challenge to start from seed such as asparagus, garlic, and onions. We recommend getting starts, sets, or crowns for those plants either by mail order or at your local nursery.
  • Some seeds have need light to germinate, and some need to be soaked overnight.
  • Smart Gardener partners with the best seed companies so you can easily purchase varieties of organic and heirloom seeds online.

Starting Seeds

Seed Trays

  • Start by filling a flat with potting soil or a mix of your favorite compost.
  • Sprinkle seeds to evenly distribute them across the flat.
  • Cover seeds to the proper depth, as described by Smart Gardener, or on the seed packet, with potting soil or compost.
  • Water lightly with a mist spray until the soil or compost is fully wet.

Cell Flats

  • Fill the seedling cups with potting soil or compost.
  • Use the instructions on the seed packet to determine how far down to plant the seed. Then take a seed and place it down into the individual hole.
  • Cover the seed with soil or compost, and then water lightly with a mist spray.

Paper Towel or Newsprint

  • Begin by wetting the paper towel; then fold in half and sprinkle the seeds inside the fold.
  • Make sure to keep the paper towels damp and moist until the seed germinates.
  • Depending on the plant, you can transfer the seed, once it germinates, to a seed flat or tray and keep watered until ready to transplant outdoors.
Starts

Starts

  • Starts are very easy—they come ready to plant. On the other hand, starts are more expensive and give you a smaller selection of varieties to choose from.
  • Be sure to look for and purchase healthy looking starts with green leaves and healthy stems. Dying or yellowing leaves may indicate disease or lack of nutrients.
  • Don’t buy starts that are overgrown. Their roots can be bound if allowed to stay in the little pots, which deprives the plant of a healthy beginning. You also don’t want a leggy plant. While its height may look impressive it means it had to compete for light, which makes it less healthy.
  • A good test to tell if a plant is overgrown is to look at the bottom of the container.  If the roots are protruding from the holes in the bottom of the container the plants may be root bound.
  • Check out your local nurseries, farmers markets and special plant sales for some more unusual varieties that do well in your growing conditions.
Transplanting

Transplanting

  • Amend the soil according to the plant’s needs, which will help establish a strong root foundation.
  • Break up any compacted soil.
  • Water the area the day before you transplant to ensure the transplants won’t dry out in the ground.
  • Lay the transplants on the soil to map out where they will go.
  • Remove leaves from the plant that will be below ground level. This will help the plant spend its energy on establishing roots.
  • Dig a hole and place the transplant into the ground.
  • Lightly press the soil around the base of the plant and water the newly transplanted plants thoroughly.
  • Plants that don’t respond well to root disturbance should be transplanted carefully with as little damage as possible.
  • Don’t transplant during the hot, sunny parts of the day. Plants respond better during cooler, cloudier conditions.
  • To avoid shocking plants, allow starts to harden off one week prior to transplanting.
  • Smart Gardener will notify you when to harden off your seedings and when to transplant, and will track your plants’ growth once you check off your To Dos.
Starting Seeds Outdoors

Starting Seeds Outdoors

  • Some plants, such as carrots, cannot be easily transplanted. Direct sow these seeds in your garden.
  • Poke a hole in the soil to the proper depth, as described by Smart Gardener on the variety’s seed packet, place a seed in the hole, and cover with soil. Water seeds thoroughly after planting.
  • Young seedlings are susceptible to getting eaten, so try to protect them outdoors as much as possible, either with straw or row covers.

Also… Check out more vegetable gardening tips at hometalk.com… Smart Gardener was mentioned! http://www.hometalk.com/3437916/the-lazy-man-s-guide-to-starting-a-garden

Ask a Gardener: summer squash

Ask a Gardener: summer squash

This is the first post in a series we’re calling Ask a Gardener,
where you get to ask our resident experts your gardening questions.
Feel free to send questions to gardener@smartgardener.com.

 

Renee B. asks, “This is my first year growing summer squash. Any tips?”

Sue L. asks, “My zucchini plant isn’t making fruit. It has lots of flowers, but they just drop off. Help!”

The basics
Summer squash is justly famous as one of the easiest and most productive vegetables to grow and is ideal for the new gardener. Just put the large seeds in the ground and in a few weeks you will have plants that are a foot wide and producing big, beautiful yellow flowers. Most people know the Summer Early Crookneck and Summer Dark Green zucchini varieties, but there are also quite a few unique varieties, like the beautifully striped Cocozelle, the squat Yellow Scallop, the ball-shaped Ronde de Nice, and the stunning Climbing Trombetta.

Did you know summer squash and winter squash (including pumpkins) are all in the same family, and can easily cross-pollinate each other? And more interestingly, all squash plants are monoecious, which means there are separate male and female flowers on the same plant. It is easy to tell which is which. The first flowers are usually male and won’t produce any fruit. These have pollen producing stamens clustered together in a column (these shrivel without producing fruit). They will soon be followed by the productive female flowers, which have what looks like a tiny fruit behind the petals (this is the ovary). It quickly becomes obvious when a female flower has been pollinated because it starts to swell into the familiar looking fruit (if it isn’t pollinated it simply shrivels up).

Hand pollinating
If your plants aren’t producing fruit, it may not be attracting enough pollinators, and you may need to hand pollinate your flowers. Don’t worry, it’s quite easy. Find a male flower and a female flower (ideally, from different plants). Remove the petals from the male and brush the pollen-laden anthers on to the pistil lobes of the female. This procedure should work about 50 to 75% of the time, especially if you use two males flowers to pollinate each female.

Saving seeds
If you are only interested in obtaining fruit it doesn’t matter where the pollen comes from, but if you wish to save seed it is significant. Plants cross-pollinate readily and to keep a variety pure you have to ensure it is pollinated by another plant of the same variety. The easiest way to do this is to grow only one variety at a time, and have no others within a half mile. If you grow more than one variety you should hand pollinate the flowers. Since you want to control the pollination, you will need to go out in the evening and find some male and female flowers that are about to open the following day and tape them shut with ¾” masking tape. The next morning, use the steps above to hand pollinate the female flowers, and then tape it closed again (to prevent further pollination). This will ensure they aren’t accidentally pollinated by a different plant. It’s a good idea to mark the pollinated fruit so it isn’t accidentally harvested. And then you wait. The fruit must be left to mature fully on the vine. The fully ripe fruit will be big and woody like a Winter Squash. It can take at least 60 days for the fruit to ripen properly, so you need to allow plenty of time before frost.

Enjoy the flowers
To ensure there is always plenty of pollen available, the plants produce many more male flowers than females. These excess males don’t have to go to waste though, as they are edible and can be used to provide a variety of exotic dishes (just make sure there are no insects inside them). They can be eaten raw, fried, baked, made into soup, filled with cheese (they have been called natures ravioli) or placed inside a quesadilla. The pollen producing stamens are usually removed because they can be somewhat bitter. While they are becoming increasingly common at farmers markets, these flowers only last for a day or two, and are mostly a special treat for the gardener.

If you have made the common mistake of planting too many squash plants, you can reduce the volume of fruit you are harvesting by eating some of the female flowers too. These can be used in the same ways as the male flowers but are slightly more substantial.

 

Essentials of watering

Essentials of watering

While the rest of the country has been under severe heat warnings and drought conditions, summer has finally arrived for us in California, and in my garden we have already passed the point where the vegetables can get enough moisture from the soil. Until the rains start again in late October it is up to me to supply enough water to keep them alive. This is the most important summer gardening activity and if it isn’t done properly there won’t be much of a vegetable garden.

There are four important steps to keep in mind when watering to get the most benefit:

Watch your plants
If you know what to look for it is easy to tell when plants are suffering from lack of water. The first sign is that they lose the sheen on their leaves and start to sag slightly instead of standing rigidly upright. It is important to water immediately when you see this happening, as further stress will slow their growth. More extreme signs of water stress include curling leaves, floppy growing tips and dying leaves, all of which means the plant is severely distressed and has stopped growing.

Simple wilting of leaves isn’t always a sign of stress however. Many plants (especially those with large leaves such as squash and cucumber) do it intentionally in hot sunny weather as a means of reducing water loss. They recover quickly when the temperature drops though, whereas water stressed plants recover more slowly. This is why you should check plants for water stress in the cool of early morning or evening and not in the midday heat.

Sunflowers are particularly prone to water stress (they wilt before almost anything else) and can be used as a living indicator of when the soil is starting to get dry. Simply plant a few sunflowers in your garden bed and when they show signs of wilting, it is time to water the entire bed.

How much water to apply
The usual rule of thumb says you should give your plants 1″ of water per week in summer and about ½” in spring and fall. An inch of water means ⅔ gallon per square foot, or 66 gallons per 100 square feet and should be enough to penetrate 6″ to 12″ into the ground.

Though 1″ per week is a reasonable average to start with, it is only a guideline and will be altered by temperature, humidity, soil type, crop and more. You have to look at the plants and the soil to determine if you are watering enough and adjust accordingly. After watering the soil should be evenly moist all the way down. Probably the commonest mistake of beginner gardeners is to water only until the soil surface looks nice and wet and then move on. Appearances can be deceiving though and only an inch or so down the soil may still be completely dry. If your plants are wilting again within 24 hours you didn’t give them enough water.

Time of day to water
In hot weather you should avoid watering in the middle of the day, because any water that lands on the leaves, or the soil surface, will quickly evaporate and be wasted. Water either in the morning, or early enough in the  evening so that wet leaves can dry out before nightfall.

How to apply water
Water should only be applied to the soil as fast as it can soak in. If you apply water faster than this it will puddle and the surface structure may break down. Water may also run off of the bed and be wasted (it may also take soil with it).

How to mulch

How to mulch

I consider mulch to be an indispensable part of the summer vegetable garden.

  • reduces evaporation of water from the soil
  • prevents weeds (many weeds need bare soil)
  • supplies nutrients to the soil (when it breaks down)
  • protects the soil from damage by sun and air
  • reduces disease (by preventing soil splashing on leaves)

 

If a genetically engineered commercial product did as much, it would be patented, hailed as a miracle of science, promoted in all of the garden magazines and sold for a hefty price. Yet mulch does all of these things and more and costs next to nothing (or nothing).

The best all around material for mulching the annual vegetable garden is straw (avoid the similar looking hay at all costs, as it is full of weed seeds and can turn your soil into a weedy nightmare). Straw comes neatly compacted into a convenient (if rather heavy) bale, is clean and easy to use and looks quite attractive on the bed. If you are growing transplants, you spread a 2 to 3 inch layer around the newly planted plants (it will settle as you water). If you are direct sowing you have to wait until the seeds have germinated and the plants are a few inches high before you can apply it.

If you don’t have access to straw, you can use grass clippings or chopped tree leaves (run these over with a lawnmower to chop them, or put them in a metal bin with a string trimmer). Compost can be used as mulch too, if you have enough of it. You can also buy the hulls of cocoa bean, cottonseed and buckwheat for use as mulch, but they are expensive when compared to straw.

The only time I don’t recommend mulch if you have lots of slugs (it provides the perfect hiding places for them) or when you want the soil to warm up rapidly (it insulates it from the warming rays of the sun). Otherwise, it’s probably the most important thing you can do for your garden.