Friday, October 17, 2014

Easy fall decor project

I just love this time of year! It's so much fun decorating both indoors and out, to celebrate this beautiful season.

Here's a fun project I recently did to perk up our porch. The best part is that it was quick and easy.

My wonderful Dad made me these beautiful picket planters many years ago. During the spring and summer, they're filled with colorful annuals like geraniums, torenia, sweet potato vines and so on. During the fall months, I like to put something bright and seasonal in them.

But you don't need picket planters to do this project. This would also work in window boxes, hay rack planters or other containers.

Here's how I did it:

Since I wanted the tops of the clay pots to be visible, I placed some short lengths of 2x4's inside the planters to raise the pots up.

I set four clay pots on top of the 2x4s in each of the two planters. The pots are 6" in diameter, which easily accommodates the bottom of each pumpkin, squash or gourd. Remember that you want as much of them to show as possible because you want lots of color, right? I wouldn't recommend using pots that are any larger in diameter as the squash, etc. would drop down into them and you'd lose your height.

Next, I pushed a lot of pine needles around the pots. In past years, I've used Spanish moss but that gets really messy plus it's rather pricey. We have pine trees in our yard so the needles were free. Such a deal! The purpose of the pine needles is to hide the 2x4s under the pots and also to have an interesting texture showing around each pot (see photo to left). Try to stuff the needles in really well to avoid having them blow out during a windstorm.

Finally, you get to add in your pumpkins, winter squash and/or gourds. I like to use what I've grown but I also like a lot of color. I must confess that I didn't grow the Turban squash in the left planter or the Red Kuri squash in the right one. But they add a lot to the planters, don't they? That reminds me: if you're also buying a few squash or pumpkins, make sure their bottoms are a bit larger than the diameter of your pots so they'll just rest on -- and a bit inside -- the pots but you'll be able to see as much of them as possible.

And there you have it! A nice, colorful and homegrown display for fall. As you can see, I added some corn stalks to the side of each planter, pumpkins on the front steps, a fall wreath and a galvanized vase containing sedum 'Autumn Joy' and 'Vanilla Strawberry' hydrangeas from the garden. What do you think?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 veggie report card

'Peppermint Stick' chard (read about it below)
As promised, here is a report card on how the vegetable varieties I grew in my garden this year performed. Their grades are in parentheses.

Green Globe - (A)  This variety has more rounded heads and greener foliage. It was less productive and seemed more prone to aphids for some reason.
Imperial Star - (B) It has more grayish foliage and was much more productive than Green Globe.

Italian Pesto - (A) Very prolific, grew well, very flavorful.

Beans, Bush:
Fagiolo Nano - (B-) Not very productive and the beans were tougher than I care for.
French Fillet - (A+) Incredibly prolific, tender and narrow beans with great flavor.

Beans, Pole:
Italian Snap - (B) It wasn't this variety's fault; I had some defective germination mix that affected the germination of the bean seeds; by the time I realized what the problem was, they seeds I started later got off to a very slow start. Normally, Italian Snap is excellent, though.
Scarlet Runner - (B) This bean tends to produce well later in the season; beans not as tender as I prefer. The red flowers attract hummingbirds, which is a plus. Vigorous vines.

Detroit Red - (B+) They grew and developed roots fairly quickly; good flavor.

Jersey Wakefield (A) - This is a tried-and-true variety for me. Develops very nice heads, good flavor.
Caraflex (A) - This was new to me this year; heads were conical but larger than I was expecting; they grew and developed very quickly. Attractive plant as well.

Purple Haze (B) - I grew this variety for the novelty of it because the roots are purple on the outside and orange on the inside. The flavor is good and the carrots are deep purple on the outer layers; be aware that the fresh carrots will leave purple dye on anything they touch, especially once you've peeled them! I noticed the foliage seemed susceptible to powdery mildew. It also wanted to bolt to seed, beginning at least a month ago. The other varieties I grew didn't have either of these problems.
Starica (A) - I grew this variety last year and continue to be very impressed with them. The roots are huge and very flavorful.
Tendersweet (A) - These carrots also grew beautifully and have a good flavor.

Tango (A) - I grew this variety last year and was pleased with it. This year was no exception. Very happy with the lush plants and prolific stalks. The stalks are daintier than what you'd find at the grocery store but very tasty. Easy to grow.

Pot of Gold (A) - I grew this one last year as well; the stalks are a deep mustard-yellow and very striking both on the plants and when you cook them.
Peppermint Stick (A) - I know folks are going to want the source for these seeds, once they see the photo at the top! They came from Renee's Garden and are so cool-looking in the garden. They've got great chard flavor; this variety was aptly-named because the stalks definitely look like peppermint sticks! Very productive.

Slow Bolt (B+) - Despite its name, you really need to plant it at the right time. If you want to use it for salsa and other tomato dishes, sow the seeds directly in the garden at the first of August. That way, the leaves will be at their peak just in time for tomato-harvesting season. If you plant it earlier, like in mid-May, it will bolt to seed way before you need it!

Peaches 'n Cream (A) - Very productive, with a few ears per stalk. The corn is very flavorful.


Bluegreen Autumn 'Porbella' (B-) - I'd never grown this variety before but got the seeds for free in a garden magazine so wanted to give them a try. They grew very slowly and now that it's harvest time (fall), the stalks aren't very large in diameter. For this region, I'd recommend 'King Richard'.

Burgundy (C) - This has pretty yellow flowers that develop into burgundy-colored okras. Not very productive plants, likely they were shocked by some of the early summer cool temperatures because they grew very slowly and the plants were stunted. A disappointment, but more due to our weather conditions than the variety.

Copra (B) - For some reason this wasn't a great onion year for us. Not sure why. Copra stores for a really long time so that's a huge plus in my book.
Highlander (B) - This was a new variety this year. It didn't grow as well as I'd hoped.

Albion (A) - I've grown this variety before. It grows huge, tasty roots. No problems.

Sunset (A) - These guys were very prolific, with as many as 8 on a plant; they turned a beautiful red later in the season; nice flavor.
Jalapeno (B) - We only had a plant or two but they didn't produce very well.
Poblano (B) -We only had one plant but it didn't produce very well.

Yukon Gold (A) - Yukons are always reliable in the garden. They produce large tubers that are very buttery-tasting.
Viking Purple (A) - This variety was recommended by a friend. The white flesh is surrounded by thin purple skin. Very productive and absolutely delicious!

New England Pie (A++) - Wow! Despite growing in a small bed, the vines really put out this year. I ended up with about 26 pumpkins. They are perfect for making pies and other baked goodies. Good flavor, easy to grow.

Salad greens:
Sylvetta Arugula (B+) - I discovered this will easily bolt unless you grow it in cool weather so time your plantings accordingly. Very prolific, flavorful leaves.
Red Sails (A++) - This is a perennial favorite with us. Great flavor and texture. Very slow to bolt in hot weather. Pretty in salads.
Patty's Choice Bibb (A) - Very prolific, tasty leaves with lots of crunch.
Outredgeous Romaine (A) - Pretty leaves, slow to bolt in hot weather.

Squash, Summer:
Crostata Romanesco (B+) - Grew fairly well, nice flavor, could have been more productive but that might have been related to a problem we were experiencing along the eastern edge of our garden.

Squash, Winter:
Sweet Meat (A+) - This variety is absolutely delicious when baked and produces quite large squash. Has green skin but flesh is bright orange.
Sweet Dumpling (B) - This is a popular variety with us but it didn't produce very many squash this year, for some reason.
Delicata (A+) - It produced a lot of long, slender squash that are wonderful when roasted. Definitely a favorite.
Cream of the Crop acorn (A++) - It produced a LOT of squash on vines (contrary to what the seed catalog said about it being a bush-type squash). I harvested young squash as summer squash (tasty) and let the rest mature to use for roasting purposes. I just cooked one of them a couple of days ago, as a matter of fact. You'll notice in the photo that they have light, creamy flesh. The flavor was fine but the surprise was that the texture was a bit stringy, kind of like the way spaghetti squash are. My husband thought it was good so we'll roast some more in the next couple of weeks and see if that's the norm. For all I know, I should have roasted it a bit longer.
Lakota (B-) - I've had good results in the past but production was poor this year. The seeds were fresh so I'm not sure what the problem was.

Toma Verde (A) - My first time growing these; the plants got off to a slow start, then kicked it into high gear. They were very productive. We made 3 huge batches of salsa verde (green sauce) with them.

Jetstar (slicing) (A+) - This was my second year growing this variety. It produces well, has fantastic flavor and large fruits. Definitely a winner!
Sungold (cherry) (A) - We've grown this for years; very reliable; fantastic flavor where "you can't eat just one." One plant was sufficient to meet our snacking needs.
San Marzano (paste) (A) - These are prolific and flavorful, but on the small side.
Italian Pompeii (paste) (A++) - I love these and have been growing them for years. They are huge, flavorful, not too juice which is perfect for making sauces and ketchup, and very productive.
Bellstar (grafted plum) (A+) - A friend gave me this plant after the season was well underway. Once it recovered from being transplanted rather late, it was very productive and we really liked the flavor of the tomatoes. You know how we all grow tomatoes because their flavor is outstanding? Well, Bellstar has one of the best flavors of homegrown tomatoes I've ever tasted!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall clean-up chores: what to do now, and what can wait

As we near the end of the 2014 garden season, I’m having my annual dilemma: do I tidy up the garden now or wait until next year?

I’ve long preferred to do my clean-up in the fall. I once read that it’s more efficient to wait until the start of the new season. While it’s true that most perennials are easier to trim back after a long winter, waiting until spring just makes me feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. Maybe you have the same feelings about this.

What kinds of tasks are important to do in the fall?

Dispose of diseased plants or fruits instead of composting them or leaving them in the garden to potentially spread disease to other plants. I find it's especially important when it comes to growing our apples organically. Anything that had pest or disease issues get tossed into the trash.

Trim back extra-long rose canes that might whip around in winter winds so they won’t damage the plant. Leave any other rose-pruning until the spring since it encourages tender new growth that would be susceptible to winter kill.

Grafted roses will need their graft unions protected before the soil freezes. Mound soil or a thick layer of pine needles, straw or mulch around the base of each plant to a depth of about 12 inches.

Instead of cursing those leaves falling from the trees, appreciate them for the gift they are. Shredded leaves make great additions to compost piles or when used as a mulch. If you have more leaves than you know what to do with, pile them up or bag them and share them with other gardeners. They'll be only too happy to take them off your hands!

Fall is an excellent time to divide most perennials as the plants will have all winter long to develop a strong root system. And what’s better than free plants?

If you're wondering whether you should prune your raspberry canes now or later, the answer is either. You can prune them anytime now or wait until late winter or early spring. I recently filmed a video, explaining how to prune raspberries; here's a link to it on my YouTube channel.

One of the most important tasks we all need to do is to make sure our trees and shrubs are well-watered as we head into winter. That will prevent the leaves from drying out and help plants better tolerate those colder temperatures. I'm personally rooting for lots of snow this winter because it acts as an insulating blanket. I realize that's not a popular thing to wish for but I'm doing it anyway! Unfortunately, the weather folks are forecasting an El Nino winter for us, which means below-average moisture... oh well.

If you love garlic, plant some this fall. It’s easy to grow, provided you follow a few simple rules. Purchase disease-free seed garlic from a local garden center or online source. Loosen the soil in the bed to a depth of 8 inches and incorporate some compost into it. Separate the cloves and plant each one with the pointed end facing up at a depth of 2 inches. Space them 6 inches apart. If you've planted more than one variety, be sure to label them. I always think that, come spring, I'm going to remember what's what. That's not always the case! 

Cover the bed with a few inches of mulch to prevent the soil from heaving during the freeze-thaw cycles during the fall and winter. In early spring, move aside the mulch when you see garlic sprouts and watch it grow.

Most other garden tasks can wait until late winter or early spring so you can set them aside and enjoy your well-earned rest.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Contest winner announcement

And the winner of our contest is... (drum roll, please) Laura Michelson! Congratulations, Laura! Please email me at with your mailing address and I'll pop your beautiful new garden apron in the mail. Thank you to everyone who entered the contest! You're the best.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Travel article: Visiting Butchart Gardens in the fall

My husband Bill and I were in Victoria, British Columbia earlier this month. Anytime we're in the area, we absolutely MUST visit beautiful Butchart Gardens!

I wrote an article about our visit in The Spokesman-Review today. Here is a link to it: Victoria's Butchart Gardens dazzle in any season.

I met with Graham Bell of Butchart's public relations department and Rick Los, director of horticulture. Both gentlemen were very welcoming and gave me a lot of information about the history and operations of the gardens.

Rick took us on a wonderful behind-the-scenes tour. It was so nice to learn they employ IPM (integrated pest management) techniques throughout the gardens. They use predatory insects to deal with damaging pests, rather than using chemicals.

They also compost all of the kitchen waste from their on-site restaurants as well as all healthy plant material that is done for the season. They burn any diseased plants to avoid spreading it to healthy plants.

You should see their compost piles! They are absolutely enormous! (see photo to right) And they grow their pumpkins, gourds and winter squash on top of those piles, for use in fall displays.

Employees are encouraged to either carpool or bicycle-commute to work. And you could tell they all loved what they do. And who wouldn't? Butchart Gardens is a gorgeous place that you must visit if you're ever in the area.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Winter squash and pumpkin harvest

I finally wrapped up the bulk of my winter squash and pumpkin harvest this morning. There are still two 'Lakota' winter squash that haven't quite passed the "thumbnail test," so I've left them on the vines. Otherwise, things are looking good.

I put everything into my little greenhouse for 2 weeks of curing. You might recall I did some initial picking about 2 weeks ago so I could share with you my tip about curing the squash before putting them into storage for the winter. If you missed it, here's a link to the video on my YouTube channel. Anyway, that first batch of squash can now be moved into my basement.

Here are the final numbers for my winter squash and pumpkin harvest:

Sugar pumpkins: 26
'Cream of the Crop' acorn squash: 22
Sweet dumpling squash: 6
'Lakota' squash: 4 (and hopefully the last two in the garden soon)
Sweet Meat: 6
Delicata: 17

All in all, I'm pretty pleased.

We do a lot of baking with the sugar pumpkins -- plus use some for Halloween decor -- so even though that sounds like a huge number, that should work out pretty well. We'll share some, too.

The 'Cream of the Crop' acorn squash was amazing! I bought the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and was intrigued by the description indicating that you can pick them young as summer squash or let them mature to use as winter squash. It also stated that it was a "bush-type" squash. Well, as I've said earlier, that last part wasn't correct. They are definitely the vining type but I didn't hold that against them since they were so prolific. I intend to roast one this weekend and will let you know what I think of the quality. If they are as tasty as the more conventional dark-green acorn squash (which I haven't had good luck with), 'Cream of the Crop' will really be a winner.

This shows how large the (green) Sweet Meat squash are.
The Sweet Dumplings were a bit of a disappointment this year. Ordinarily, I'd harvest at least a dozen of them. I'm not sure why they didn't perform well. They are very tasty when roasted, so I'm a little bummed at the smaller harvest.

The 'Lakota' were also disappointing. The four that I've harvested so far are quite small compared to last year's harvest. I'm wondering if they might have needed a bit more space to grow better. Their neighbors -- those pesky acorn squash -- were taking up more than their fair share of room!

Even though I only harvested 6 'Sweet Meat' squash, I'm not feeling too badly because most of them are huge. And let me tell you, if you've never tasted a roasted 'Sweet Meat', you are missing out! Consider picking one up at a farmer's market or grocery store and give them a try. You'll be hooked. I promise.

The Delicatas were a very pleasant surprise since I had a problem with other Delicata seeds last year. I think 17 is a pretty good result. They are also amazing when roasted, especially with lots of garlic and a drizzle of both olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mm-mmm!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It's apple harvest time!

 This is one of my favorite times of year because we are starting to harvest our organically-grown apples.

So far, we've picked the McIntosh and Gravenstein apples. Next will be the Jonagolds and finally, the Fujis.

I'll admit the apples don't look very impressive, sitting in the buckets above (click on the photo to see what I mean). But that's because the apples were sprayed in the spring with kaolin clay, a natural substance that helps keep the codling moths away from the apples.

My husband, Bill, has also been trying out a spray containing another natural substance, spinosad. The spray is called Bull's-Eye Bio-insecticide and we purchased it at Gardens Alive. Spinosad has been proven to be effective against codling moths and cherry fruit flies -- the two most troublesome orchard pests we have to deal with.

We also cover most of our apples with little nylon "footies" when they are about the size of a large marble. Yes, it's tedious to put those footies on them but our efforts pay off in that we have minimal codling moth damage each year.

Next year, Bill is considering trying only the Bio-insecticide spray on one or two trees, just to see how it works as a stand-alone treatment.

When we harvest the apples, they look rather gray and dull. But once we wash them and polish them up, I'm sure you'll agree they're gorgeous! These are the McIntosh apples and they are absolutely delicious. We even juiced a combination of the Macs, Gravensteins and a few Jonagolds and the juice is to die for!

If you are interested in reading more about the process we go through to raise our apples organically, here are a couple of blog posts you might find helpful:

Apple barriers
Organic apple report

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Oct. 5 column

It's hard to believe that my column in today's edition of The Spokesman-Review is my last one for this season. Time flies, eh? But not to worry, I'll be back to writing them again in February.

In the meantime, today's column is a wrap-up of the season so I wanted to provide you with a link to it: Tomatoes, squash gave best output. From here on out, I'll be devoting my time to updating this blog, my Facebook page, Pinterest boards and filming more gardening videos throughout the fall and winter.

Thank you for all of the kind notes and comments about my columns. I really enjoy writing about my favorite subject!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Preserving the pepper harvest

If you're like me, you've probably been scurrying around in your garden lately, trying to pick and preserve as much of the harvest as possible. After all, it's hard to know how much longer our weather will hold, right?

Today, I've picked most of our sweet peppers. They can be tricky to preserve because, unlike tomatoes that you can turn into sauce, ketchup or juice, peppers are a bit more limited. They seem to be best when used fresh or in making dishes like stuffed green peppers (love those!).

The solution? We like to chop up our peppers and store them in the freezer. That way, you can pop open a freezer bag, grab a handful of them and add them to an omelet, stew, chili, casserole or rice dish. It's very quick and simple.

Photo 2

After washing the peppers, I slice off the tops, remove the seeds, and cut them into large chunks. Next, I use a nifty tool we've had for years that we refer to as the "slicer-dicer." We bought this gadget at Williams-Sonoma (no, we don't own stock in the company) and it's great for quickly chopping up or slicing veggies or fruits. I love it!

So that's what's in the background of photo #2. Now, if you don't have a gadget along those lines, you can always chop the peppers with a knife or pulse them in a food processor. If you do the latter, keep an eye on them because they can turn to mush very quickly.
Photo 3
Photo 4

Photo #3 shows the finished product, which is very easy to work with for different types of recipes.

The last step (photo #4) is to put the chopped peppers into freezer bags and pop them into the freezer. Easy as can be, eh?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Storing winter squash and pumpkins

I just posted a video about curing winter squash and pumpkins before storing them on my Facebook page and YouTube channel.

One thing you might be wondering about is the ideal conditions for storing them after the curing process.

The most ideal temperature is about 50 degrees F. (10 degrees C.). Choose a dark location that is dry so you don't have any conditions that would promote mold. I like to store my squash and pumpkins in our basement, either on my wooden storage rack or on sheets of newspaper... again, to keep them nice and dry.

I've heard of some folks storing theirs on the floor of a closet, so there's an option for you as well. Some of the short-storing squash include spaghetti, 'Delicata' and acorn. Longer-storing varieties include pumpkins and hubbard, 'Sweet Meat', butternut and 'Lakota' squash.

Keep an eye on everything to make sure there aren't any mold or rot problems going on. And be sure to treat yourself often to roasted squash and homemade pumpkin pies!