A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate


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Ordering seeds, It’s A Joint Adventure

Here we are, Linda on the left and Tania on the right, getting ready to order our seeds for the coming gardening season. We get together in January to order seeds so we can get an early start on the growing season. Linda starts her petunia seeds in February and I start our tomatoes, peppers and impatience on the front porch in early March.

It used to be that you could order all the seeds you needed from one catalog, however, these days you need to go through many more. This year we had to go through 14 catalogs in order to find the variety of seeds we wanted to plant. We selected the catalogs that had the most seed varieties in the same catalog and we still had to use 4 different catalogs.  This year we found seeds for a pie pumpkin in, Johnny’s Select Seeds, and Jung Quality Seeds . Jung Quality Seeds  and R.H. Shumway’s, were the only catalogs of the 14 that had mangel seeds. Mangles are very large beets that are very good for eating and also for storing in a root cellar over the winter. Farmers, my late husband included, also use them for winter cattle feed.

When ordering seed for the short season climate you need to check the number of days to harvest so that you can select the variety that will ripen the earliest.

Following is a list of seed catalogs,The Maine Potat0 Lady, Farmer Seed and Nursery, Fedco Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, stokeseeds, Pinetree Garden Seeds, Burpee gardening, seeds, Plants, supplies, Gurnery’s, Seeds Of Change Certified Organic, Territorial Seed Co., The Cook’s Garden, Vermont Bean Seed Co., Totally Tomatoe’s, Park Seed Co., Henery Field’s Seed and Nursery Co. StarkBros trees and nursery, Michigan Bulb Company.

If you order from one catalog you will get on a mailing list and will start receiving more catalogs, that’s how we managed to have so many different catalogs.


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Cucumbers

cucumber netting

netting for cucumbers to climb up on

cucumbers growing on netting

cucumbers growing on netting

cucumbers on vines

cucumbers on vines

We grow cucumbers in our greenhouse because the season is so short here. In May, after we hang  netting that has large spaces in it from the roof of the greenhouse, we plant our seeds in the soil of the greenhouse floor.  Then we put black plastic between the rows to keep the weeds down and to heat up the soil. Yes, we have weeds, they blow in the open windows and doors and we bring them in on our feef and clothes.  After that, we sprinkle Concern, ( diatomaceous earth, organic crawling insect killer), over the seeds before they come up.

You should be able to order Concern, at gardening stores or gardening catalogs. See the post (: https://51chevy.wordpress.com/2008/01/22/catalogs-that-…nhouse-growing/ ) If you still can’t find it click this site http://www.victorpest.com/search?page=1&search=concern.  Concern kills crawling insects like slugs and pill bugs that eat plant shoots and young plants.  It can be used in the garden, on house plants, or in the greenhouse.

I recently learned that Concern, cannot be shipped to all states, however, another product called Safer, diatomaecous earth can. Go to http://www.saferbrand.com/store/insect-control/51702  to order on line.

There are two different kins of  diatomaceous earth, one is used to filter swimming pools.  This type should not be used as it is dangerous to breath it in because it can cause lung damage.  The variety used for gardens is a much finer powder and does not pose a health hazard.

As the cucumbers grow up the netting you must weave the vines in and out of the netting spaces.  This is necessary in order for the vine to support the weight of the cucumbers as they grow.


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Garlic

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Drying Garlic                                                                         Planting garlic

There are many types of soft neck and hard neck garlic and they also have different flavors. You can order garlic cloves from seed catalogs.  ( see the post “Ordering Seeds It’s A Joint Adventure,”) never use the garlic you get in grocery stores.  Just like every thing else garlic is rated for different climate zones.  Only order garlic cloves rated for zone 3-4.  It seem that the only garlic that is rated for zone 3-4  are the hard neck types.

Garlic can be planted anytime between late August and October.  After you harvest your garlic you can set some aside to plant.   It usually takes about a year for garlic to mature into large bulbs, so plant accordingly. Before planting you must separate the cloves from the bulbs. Break the paper between cloves with a knife if you have to and then separate the cloves from the bulb.  They should be planted about 4 inches apart. (see above picture) After  planting the cloves will start to grow, sending up green shoots almost immediately.  They will stay green all winter even under the snow but will stop growing when the ground freezes.

Next summer they will produce flower spikes called scapes,  you must remove them before they flower.  Go along the row and grab them by the stalk and tug, they will come right out.  Scapes can be used raw in salads or cooked with swiss chard for example.
As soon as the tops start to turn brown they should be dug up and processed for drying.  If you wait to long the bulbs will split and they will not keep as long.  We usually wash the bulbs, with stalks still attached, then we cut off the stalks with pruning shears to about 1 to 2 inches above the bulb.  Then they are set out to dry in our greenhouse or in some warm dry place, like a sunny porch.  They should dry for a week or two. (see above picture) After drying garlic should be stored in a cool dark place, I keep mine at the top of the stairs to my cellar.  I have a real cellar with a dirt floor.  Yours would probably keep well in a cool dark closet in your basement.  I hang the bulbs in orange bags.  I save the net bags oranges come in during the winter and use them to store garlic.  They will keep a long time but won’t last until next summer.


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Spring Planted Bulbs, Shrubs and Trees

garedning-a-z-058 crocus-1 We are all familiar with the bulbs that come up in the spring, like daffodils and crocus, that have to be planted in the fall in order to have blooms in the spring.  There are bulbs and other plants that can be planted in the spring that will bloom in the summer such as lilies, dahlias, Host, astilbe and many many other flowering plants.

Spring is the best time to plant fruit trees, shrubs, berry bushes, strawberries and landscape plants because you find out almost immediately whether or not they have survived or need to be replaced.

Here is a list of catalogs that sell spring planted bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees.

Michigan Bulb Co. McClure & Zimmerman High Country Gardens, Select Seeds K.Van Bourgondien & sons, inc. whole sale catalog,   Van BourgondienFarmer Seed and Nursery Stark Bro’s.


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Impatiences

Impatiences need to be started in early March, right after the tomatoes and peppers. A sunny front or back porch or germination stand is a good place to start seeds that need an really early start.

This germination stand has two 25 watt bulbs for heat under the shelves and two florescent bulbs on the top of the shelf for light. Linda’s husband Tim built it for her when she started gardening. When we started gardening together, it was moved to my house because It is my job to start our seeds.

After the tomatoes and peppers are off the germination stand the Impatiences go on. It can take up to 3 weeks for impatiences to come up. They don’t like heat under them and need light to germinate. The seeds should be only very slightly covered with sifted potting soil or seed starting potting mix. Seed starting potting mix is a very light potting soil and is available from Miracle-grow. I keep them under fluorescent lights. The lights are turned off at night to simulate a normal day. I have had really good results using this method. The plants are then put on the front porch until the end of May. After the last frost the flats are put out on the old stone sink, where they will be planted, to grow and harden off for a few weeks.

I plant the same variety every year, Busy Lizzie, blue pearl. It’s a great cool color for the stone sink planter on the north side of the greenhouse which is also a south west direction by the back porch. When you come out of the house on a hot summer day the first thing you see are the lilac blue Impatience or the pink and white bleeding heart that grows beside the planter.


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Squash, Anyone?

There are two kinds of squash, summer and winter. Of the summer squashes there are basically three types, yellow, patty pan and zucchini or green. There are many many kinds of winter squash. We grow carnival, butternut, sweet meat, red kuri, gourds, field and pie pumpkin. In zone 3-4 they need to be started in pots in early May. We plant 5 seeds to a pot and plant the contents of the pot as a hill in the garden. We start ours in the greenhouse, we put the pots in between the rows of cucumbers that we planted directly into the greenhouse soil in early May.

Then we plant them in the garden in black plastic in early June. The black plastic keeps the soil warm and moist, as the squash needs to mature fast in a short season climate. You cannot grow squash in the greenhouse because the leaves become moldy. Cucumbers become moldy after a while also, however, they produce fruit fast and so you will still get a good crop. Mold on the cucumbers has never been a problem.

You cannot grow watermelon, or cantaloupe in zone 3-4, even in the greenhouse, unless you live in a river valley or near a large lake, believe me we gave it a good try. Growing cantaloupe and watermelon in the greenhouse results in the leaves getting moldy .

Summer squashes are at their best when cooked small, about 4 inches long, the blossoms can also be fried with batter. Some people prefer to eat squash when it is very large. As long as you can put your fingernail through the skin you don’t have to peel them. Large squash have very hard skins. Squash does not freeze well except when included in a dish like Italian zucchini. To make it I like to use very large zucchini with soft skins along with onions and tomatoes from my garden. You can make large quantities to freeze and it’s a very nice side dish in the winter. I have a friend that likes to keep large zucchini with hard skins in her cellar during the winter and puts the pulp in soup.

Squash attracts squash bugs which can be easily controlled by spraying with “Pyola” a natural insecticide you can get from Gardens Alive. We also grow a very large variety of marigold, called “Gold Coin.” It grows to 36 inches and is tall enough to reach over the squash leaves. You can get it from Jung Seed Co. Marigold is a good plant to use as an insect deterrent although, bees don’t seem to be bothered by it. The pictures above shows the marigold inter-planted with the squash plants.


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One Potato Two Potato

Linda brought in the last two buckets of potatoes, one for her one for me last week. We stored them in the root cellar last fall and have been enjoying them up to now. We planted our new crop last week in the garden. You can either buy potato sets or eyes from a catalog (see the post “Ordering Seeds It’s A Joint Adventure”) or get whole potatoes from a feed store or farm supply store.  I received a new catalog in the mail called  “The Maine Potato Lady,”  they feature many kinds of potatoes, garlic and other crops and items. We also sometimes use leftover potatoes that have sprouted. The problem with using sprouted potatoes is that they have been cross pollinated and you never know what you’ll get. You can plant red potatoes and get white when you dig them up.

If you buy sets or eyes from a catalog, they will be ready for planting and only need to be stored in a cool dark place until then. When you buy the whole potatoes you have to divide them into eyes before you can plant them. First store them in a cool dark place for a few weeks so that the eyes develop, so you can see where to make the divisions. On the day you plan to plant them, cut the potatoes into as many divisions, each with at least one eye, as you can, making sure you have enough of the potato flesh to feed the developing plant. Then set the cut up potatoes cut side up in the sun to cure, it should take about a hour. When cured, the surface will be dry to the touch and will look as if it had healed over.

We bought thirty lbs. of potatoes to plant this year, ten lbs. of red, ten lbs. of white and ten lbs. of Yukon Gold. An easy way to plant a lot of potatoes is to make a trench with a hoe and then lay the potatoes cut side down, eyes up, then cover with a hoe. You can also use a trowel and plant each one in a hole down the row.  Mulch them heavily.

The longer the potato plants stay green the larger the potatoes will be and you will also have more of them.  In late summer the potatoes will start to die back.  You can leave them in the soil for a few weeks after the die off but, they need to be dug up before the soil gets cold and wet.  Potatoes left in cold wet soil will rot faster and will have bands of brown coloring in them.

Try to dig them up on the morning of a sunny day.  Put tarps on the grass then put the potatoes on them.  Let the potatoes dry in the sun for a couple of hours, then store them in plastic buckets, wooden baskets or what ever you have and then store in a root cellar or in a dark, consistently cool cellar or basement.  The potatoes will not turn green when treated this way.