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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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.


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Planting In The Greenhouse

Over Memorial Day weekend Linda came over with her two daughters, Theresa and Elaine, and Elaine’s husband Dan, to plant tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse. It was a perfect day to work in the greenhouse, it was cloudy and cool. You don’t want to have to work in the greenhouse for very long on a sunny day. Linda had planted cucumber seeds in the greenhouse the week before. The cucumbers are just emerging now and will soon climb up on the netting we hung from the greenhouse roof. As the cucumbers grow, we thread them in and out of the netting so that the plants can get a good grip on the netting and won’t fall down due to the weight of the cucumber growing on them. We also put down black plastic mulch to keep the weeds down, yes we have weeds in the greenhouse, and to keep the moisture in the soil. In order to get a jump on the season we started our summer and winter squash in pots a few weeks ago. we keep the pots between the cucumber rows until we can safely put them outside in the garden.

We have been planting the tomatoes in red plastic mulch for many years now. The red-colored mulch actually reflects infrared light wavelength upward into your plants, stimulation more rapid growth and development, according to the US Dept. of Agriculture, which developed the red mulch. You can buy Red Tomato Mulch form Gardener’s Supply Company, A.M.Leonard’s Gardeners Edge and Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

Slugs and pill bugs are the two pests we have to deal with in our greenhouse. I put down diatomaceous earth and escar-Go and I also try to capture a big fat toad to put in the greenhouse for the season. Toads really enjoy the greenhouse once it gets growing good.

We haven’t had a problem with white flies for many years now. White flies live in greenhouse environments and to get them you have to bring them in from another greenhouse, at least here in the frozen north. The best way to get rid of them with Catch-It-Traps, you can get from Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden.

We use drip irrigation to water everything growing in the greenhouse in order to saves time and water. I have found that watering twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday evening, for one hour works well for us. See a past post, “The Greenhouse“.

Peppers in the greenhouse

Cucumbers in the greenghouse




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Asparagus

Asparagus, the first vegetable from the garden

Our first meal of asparagus is usually around May 21. I know this, because that was my late husbands birthday and we usually had our first picking then. This year we had a hot spell for two weeks in late April that warmed up the earth and started the asparagus growing in early May. When a heavy frost was forecast on May 15, I gathered all the asparagus that came up including the thin ones I would not usually gather. Even though asparagus overwinters well in zone 3-4, it is not frost hardy and any spear left standing would be shrivelled and inedible in the morning.

Asparagus beds are started in spring. Put the bed in a location that will give them plenty or room as the ferns it produces are about 4 feet high and almost as wide. They also will need support to keep the ferns from breaking off in the wind. I use five foot garden stakes and twine to make a cage like support. Dig a trench about 1 foot deep and about 2 feet wide in a single row. Partially fill the trench with compost. Spread the asparagus roots out over the compost with the stalk or buds up. Cover with garden soil top off with manure and then mulch with straw or leaves. The spears should be able to poke through the mulch.

The bed should not be harvested for 3 years, after that you can harvest sparingly until the first week in July for the next 2 years. The fine ferns that grow are needed to nourish the roots to store the food needed to get through the winter. In the 5th year you can harvest everything that comes up until the first week in July. An asparagus bed should keep producing for another 16 years. Asparagus grows best with lots of manure applied in spring and fall and kept well mulched.

When my children were young, one of the chores they had to do was help us spread cow manure on the garden, we raised beef in those days and had a steady supply. My daughter used to call manure re-newer. I don’t know if she couldn’t say the word or why she called it that. If you think about it, manure is re- newer.

Here is a list of cataloges that sell asparagus plants and seeds. Jung Quality Seeds, Gurney’s Seed and Nursery Co., Miller Nurseries, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, The Cook’s Garden, Henryfield’s Seed & Nursery, Burpee, Seeds of Change, gaurenteed organic, Michigan Bulb Co.,


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Of Cabbages and Kings

Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, pac choi, are all members of the cole crops, the cabbage family. These seeds can be started indoors in early to mid April. Plant them in six packs, two seeds to a cell in opposite corners. They will germinate faster if placed on a heat source. After they pop, immediately put them outdoors to grow, only bring them in if temperatures at night go into the 20’s. These plants are very frost hardy and will grow stronger stems if grown this way. You will have more robust and compact plants. If grown indoors and kept too hot, they will become very leggy and have weak stems.

Transplant into the garden as soon as they are big enough to handle. Make a row with a hoe, then lay the plants in the row, roots in the ditch with their heads laying out of the ditch. With the hoe cover the roots with soil, making sure the heads are not covered. Water well and watch them grow. This method makes for fast planting of many plants and is easy on the back and knees. Also works well with planting onions plants and potatoes.