Five herbs perfect for indoor growing

image2All good intention for the New Year aside, the recent weather really had me second-guessing some of my planting goals for the first of the year. Frankly, it’s pretty cold and wet outside. A friend suggested I create an indoor herb garden, something I’d wanted to do and, the timing was perfect. I researched best practices and sought input from neighbors I knew had created lovely herb gardens in the past.Here’s what I came up with, note: it’s pretty easy! Five herbs perfect for indoor growing:

  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

The best way to grow herbs is to place them on a windowsill or wherever gets the most daylight. A minimum of four hours of light per day is ideal, next:

  • Buy plants or separate from one already in your garden
  • Manage the size of cuttings – consider the space you intend to place them
  • I transplant herbs into 4” pots – perfect for windowsills
  • Plant each herb in its own pot – use fresh, quality soil
  • Fertilize – garden soil contains natural nutrients many indoor plants lack

Soil from the garden can also contain our little friends from outside (see: pests) as well as other potentially harmful components, so fresh is always best! Some Tips:

  • Leaves may drop in the beginning – the herbs are adjusting to a new environment
  • Keep the soil moist
  • Rosemary can have difficulty adjusting indoors so be patient
  • Indoor herbs can attract aphids or spider mites, so here’s how I handle it:
    • I inspect the herbs as I water
    • If found, I cover the soil surface and flush the plant upside down in a container of insecticidal soap and water.
    • If persistent, I flush once a week until the pests are gone

Right now, I’m working on Mint. Smells so good, my daughter loves it and, you’ve got to have mint for mojitos, right? Stories and pictures of your garden are always encouraged:   debbie@zukeeni.com

debbie@zukeeni.com

Starting the Winter Garden

Starting the Winter Garden

One of the simplest ways to keep the garden producing at full volume is to make sure it is full of growing crops at all times. After you harvest the first of the summer crops, you will often have time to plant more of them (and should), but you should also start thinking about the fall and winter garden. Winter crops need to do most of their growth before cold weather and short days arrive and slow them down. The almost mature plants will then continue to grow slowly (if the winter is mild), or sit in the garden in an edible state until harvested (if the winter is cold).

Planning the winter garden starts with choosing suitable hardy crops, which would include Asian Greens, Beet, Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Collards, Chicory, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leek, Lettuce, Parsnip, Rutabaga, Spinach, Turnip and more. You also have to choose the right varieties for winter growing, as there can be considerable variation within a crop. You want cultivars bred to tolerate cold temperatures and short day length.

The right time to start your winter crops depends upon where you live, but generally you can start planting the slower maturing crops, such as leeks, parsnips, celery and Brussel sprouts in mid-summer (July). Transplants of broccoli and cabbage can be started in August for planting in the garden through September. Quicker maturing vegetables, such as turnips and kohlrabi may be planted through mid-October. Generally if you’re your garden isn’t super fertile it’s best to start all of these earlier rather than later. If plants are too small when winter arrives they will just sit in the garden looking pathetic and embarrassing. When spring comes they will resume growing for a week or two and then bolt.

When you open up large areas of bed by harvesting, it makes sense to use the first of them for direct sown crops such as carrot or parsnip that can’t be grown from transplants. At this time of year the bare soil of a seed bed will dry out very quickly, so it’s a good idea to cover it with shade cloth. This keeps it cooler and moister and reduces the need for watering. I like to go even further and cover slow germinating crops like carrot or parsnip with a sheet of cardboard or plywood until just before I expect germination to occur (this also keeps weeds down). Cool weather crops often don’t germinate well at high temperatures, so if a period of cool weather is forecast I try and take advantage of it and get sowing.

Where possible I like to grow winter crops as transplants, as I can get them growing while the garden beds are still occupied; no need to wait for vacant space. You can start the transplants in the greenhouse if it’s not too hot (some cool weather crops won’t germinate if the temperature is too high), but it is usually warm enough to start them outside too. You can simply grow them in flats on a table covered in bird netting, though they will need frequent watering, as containers dry out rapidly. You could also use a specially designated nursery bed, which is simply an area of bed with good soil and covered with bird netting.

For those of us in the milder parts of the country the winter garden is often just as important as the summer garden and this is a crucial time of year. If you miss the window for getting your plants established, you won’t have a winter garden.

The Winter Vegetable Garden

The Winter Vegetable Garden

As the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop, many gardeners move indoors for the winter. But for those of us who live in a mild climate where we can grow late autumn and winter crops, we can keep right on growing as long as we pick the right crops, get them in the ground early enough and provide them with the proper protection.

Crop Selection

Some cool weather crops are much better suited to growing in autumn than in spring. Often by the time it’s warm enough for plants to mature in spring, longer days will cause short-day crops (spinach and oriental cabbage) to bolt. The warm temperatures adversely affect their flavor as well. If you plant these crops in late summer, they’ll grow quickly to start and then mature more slowly in the shorter colder days that follow.

For cold weather growing, stick to the tried and true hardy crops:

•    Broccoli
•    Brussels Sprouts
•    Cabbage
•    Carrot
•    Cauliflower
•    Chard
•    Citrust
•    Cornsalad
•    Horseradish
•    Kale
•    Jerusalem Artichoke
•    Leek
•    Mustard Greens
•    Parsnip
•    Turnips

It is important to use the right crop variety at this time of year, as hardiness varies considerably within a crop.

When to Plant

Fall and mild winter crops commonly take longer to mature because the sun is weaker and the days are shorter. To determine the right time to plant a fall crop, figure out the number of days it takes for it to reach maturation (adding extra days to allow for slower growth in autumn). Then determine the day you want them to mature (in areas with frost, this is normally just before the weather turns too cold for good growth). Subtract the number of growing days from the maturation date and you have the sowing date.

It’s a good idea to plant a few successions at this time to make sure you get at least one crop before the frosts and possibly more if the frost is later than expected. If you rarely have frosts, you may be able to continue growing these crops through the winter.

Where to Plant

The beds for winter crops should receive all of the sunlight they can get, so make sure they won’t be shaded. A south-facing slope is the best choice as it gets extra heat from the sun. You might shape your shape winter beds so they tilt slightly to the south to give them a little extra solar gain.

The beds should be well protected from cold winds. Don’t plant the winter garden in a low-lying area, as it might be a frost pocket and much colder than a more elevated slope. The soil should also be well drained, as dampness is often as great as enemy of winter plants as cold is (much of the value of cloches and cold frames is due to their protecting plants from moisture).

Season Extension

The simplest season extending technique is to protect the tender crops from the first occasional autumn frosts. If protected, the plants can sit in the cold garden in an edible state for weeks before having to be harvested. The hardiest autumn/winter crops will continue bearing until temperatures drop down into the 20’s.

The first frost may be followed by several weeks of good growing weather before the next one, so the simple act of covering your plants for a night or two may reward you with several more weeks of harvests.

A quick freeze will do a lot more damage to plants than a gradual decline in temperature (which gradually hardens them off). Happily you can get advance warning of an oncoming frost and act to protect your plants. Almost anything will give protection from a light frost:

•    cloches
•    cold frames
•    old blankets
•    row covers
•    plastic sheeting
•    hay or straw mulch

Cold frames and cloches can even protect plants from more severe frosts. Tall plants such as tomatoes can be unstaked and laid down on the ground for easier protection.

If your unprotected plants are hit by an unexpected frost you may be able to revive them by washing the frost off with a spray of water. This must be done before the sun hits them and thaws them out too quickly. You can also follow the example of commercial citrus farmers and leave a slow sprinkler going all night (don’t turn it off until all ice has melted). But this wastes a lot of water.

You should protect the tender crops for as long as there is good growth in the daytime. It isn’t worth protecting them once the days get cold, as they won’t thrive. It is better to replace them with hardy crops. Or maybe you do want to take a break for a month or two and hibernate. If you’ve been diligent and canned, dried or frozen some of your earlier harvests, you can enjoy the fruits of your own garden until you’re ready to start preparing again for the spring.

Cabbage

Cabbage

I was first introduced to cooked cabbage on a beach on Orcas Island in Puget Sound, where a friend sautéed it in a black iron skillet over an open fire. It was the only accompaniment to fresh barbecued oysters and, with its deep purple color was not only visually dramatic but surprisingly delicious. A vegetable I had  considered peasant fare took on a new status that afternoon and has stayed on my list of favorite vegetables ever since.

Cabbage may still not be the vegetable that entices you into organic gardening. It’s not graceful like the climbing pea plant or dramatic like the artichoke. But it’s an ideal crop for so many reasons. It is easy to grow and store, rich in vitamin C and several cancer preventing phytochemicals, high yielding, hardy (late varieties will survive temperatures down to 20˚ F) and can be harvested in cold weather after most other crops are finished.

If you live in a mild climate and have a nice crop of late season cabbage going in your garden now, you can let mature plants stand right through the winter in good condition. In fact, it is easier to leave them in the garden until you need them, protecting them with mulch if necessary.

Harvesting Cabbage

You can begin harvesting the first cabbage heads as soon as they are big and solid enough to provide a meal. Harvest by cutting through the base of the stem with a knife. Remove the roots after harvest, and compost or burn them to help prevent the buildup of disease. Then look to our blog for new ways to enjoy this versatile vegetable.

If a mature head begins to crack (this may be caused by excess nitrogen, aging or irregular water supply) harvest and use it promptly. The cracking won’t affect its edibility, but it does affect its storage life.

If too many Cabbages are maturing at once, you can slow their growth by cutting through some of their roots with a spade. You can also twist the head a quarter turn, to break some of the roots.