mottistone lettuce 72114This is Mottistone lettuce-categorized as a “summercrisp.” Summercrisp lettuces are more heat tolerant than other varieties. When attempting to grow lettuce in weather of 80+ degrees, it’s hard to germinate the seeds. If you have lettuce that’s already up, the hot weather usually makes them bolt and turns them bitter tot he taste. But by utilizing just a few easy techniques, you can grow the heat tolerant varieties right through summer. I grow 6 different kinds of summercrisps and each one tastes different from the others. Learn how to be a square foot gardener. By limiting the size of your gardens you have better control over what you can do and are better able to protect your crops from not only cold, but from heat as well. In several weeks I will be having classes at my home. These are designed to teach you how to build an inexpensive “low tunnel” so you can grow right through winter. If you want to learn how to assemble a high tunnel, we’ll be doing that as well. I’ll spend a minimal amount of time on the square foot garden method. If you’re a row gardener, no problem. It’s more work and not a big harvest, but that’s your option. Classes will fill up. The fee is $25 per person and I’ll be selling specialty fall/winter seeds from Johnny’s. You’ll save shipping charges if you buy them from me and nobody around here has these varieties. Stay tuned.

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First squash of the season

golden egg squash 71514I can’t tell if I’m a little late on the first squash or not. Some of my neighbors have already been pulling zucchini, but that’s only been for the last 2 weeks. We love this squash-it’s from Burpee’s and it’s called Golden Egg. It’s a heavy producer and I’ve got 3 of them growing. It’s growing vertically on a tower and this saves a lot of room. Also notice that great looking basil just in front of it. Looks like it’s time to start having our famous fresh tomato pizza for the summer!

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Black beauty zucchini….

zucchini 70414in one square foot. Just put in a green tee-post, place your seeds next to it, water, and it starts to grow. I juse tie it up every 6-8″ and let it go straight up the post. Works every time-the leaves are large and it shades the squares next to it but I’ll use those squares for things like lettuce. This variety of zucchini only gets to be about 5′ tall. I plant one in May and another zucchini plant the first week of July to get me through the fall. If you ever hear/read that it’s impossible to grow this kind of zucchini in 1 square foot you’ll know someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Happy 4th of July everyone…

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Thinking ahead

sprouting brussel sproutes 62814It’s hard to believe but fall isn’t too far away. Right now is the time to start a few things indoors that you’ll transplant to your garden in 6 weeks. For me, that’s brussel sprouts and leeks. Be sure to look at the maturation dates for leeks-I’ve got 3 varieties that all have harvest dates of 90, 110, and 120 days. I like to start brussel sprouts inside on the last week of June. In 6 weeks they’ll be ready for transplanting and will be a good size. That puts me in the 2nd week of August which is when all the pests begin to go away-in this case aphids. This crop loves the cooler weather and in fact tastes better after a hard freeze. There’s several crops this happens with. When you sprout the seeds first I think you save a lot of time(and seeds)by knowing which seeds will grow. Then you put them in your potmaker cups and you’re off and running. These will sprout in about 3 days. If all seven seeds sprout, I’ll give a few of them away. We only need 1 plant to feed 2 of us but I’ll end up growing 3 or 4 to make sure I’ve got enough for customers. For leeks I’ll do the same thing. My favorite varieties are Bandit and Megaton. At a later date I’ll show you my technique for getting a large part of your leek to be white without all the extra work of hilling.

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New lettuce variety

queensland 62114I mentioned a little about this several posts back. This is a new lettuce that I’m growing that can’t be found in America. I have a friend who has traveled and gardened overseas and has found this great variety that can be grown in both cold and hot weather. It’s also a different spacing than what us SFGers would normally do. Lettuce is planted 4 per square. This variety is large enough so that it’s only planted 1 per square. It’s non-hearting meaning it doesn’t form that tender inner “heart” that typically is associated with leaf lettuce varieties. Think romaine-Caesar salad greens. You harvest the leaves from the bottom. It continues to grow and keeps going for 5-6 weeks. At that point it sends up a shoot, becomes bitter, and goes to seed. Then you save the fluffy gray seed heads for next year. I’ll be selling this at the end of summer if you’re interested. It’s another great tasting crop to have on hand. The greatest thing is its ability to grow in hot weather-something that is hard to do with all other kinds of lettuce.

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Lettuce in hot weather

shaded lettuce 61114Take a look around at your local CSA’s today. As a result of finishing up the spring season, there’s still lettuce in those baskets. But if you live in a warm climate chances are there won’t be any lettuce offered in the hot months. We’re not too far away from that right now. There is the possibility that they buy their lettuce from other sources to keep their supply constant. But what about July/August? It’s been 90+ here already this spring. At temperatures of 80-85+ it becomes very difficult if not impossible to have your lettuce seeds sprout outside. There are a few tricks to learn if you want to enjoy lettuce all summer long. The two main techniques are to water at least twice as much as you normally would and to provide some sort of shade cover during the hottest part of the day. In this way I’ve been able to sprout lettuce in 100 degree weather-and it comes up in 2 days! I’m in the process of finishing my 2nd ebook about this very topic. It’s got 3 additional techniques to use for a successful summer lettuce season. Of all the things we grow in our garden, lettuce is by far our family favorite and it’s the one thing we eat the most of. And when you’ve just harvested fresh lettuce from your gardens for your dinner salad you’ll hate buying it at the store.

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Do I really need a grid?

swiss chard 60314You sure do! If you’ve ever seen a raised bed without a grid it’s really nothing more than just that-a raised bed. Nothing sets it apart from the neighbor who also has a raised bed. But if you put a grid, all of a sudden you have to think differently. Instead of planting in rows like you’re used to doing, now you’re forced to plant something different in each 1 foot square. That’s the first reason you need a grid. The second reason-if you’re trying to imagine or come close to planting in squares by just eye-balling it, you’ll never get it right. You’ll be disappointed by the results. Third-it really does set your garden apart from just a raised bed. If you’ve ever seen a successful SFG, one of the first things you notice is the grid-”Oh, here’s a square foot gardener!” The last reason is something that many don’t even consider. It’s this: the grid is the gauge on how much compost you need to add when amending your soil whenever you change a crop. As an example, after pulling your spring crop of chard, you throw the wasted leaves in the compost pile. You then add not just 2 or 3 trowels full of compost, but rather enough until it reaches to top of the grid. This might be 5 or 6 trowels full of compost. Adding just 2 or 3 may not be enough. You can never get enough compost.

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Tonights dinner

A great mesclun mixIt’s a great mesclun mix of red sails and allstar lettuce, radicchio, butter chard, and spinach. I’m a little surprised at the spinach this late in the season after two harvests already. It’s grown back very nicely and we’ve got at least enough for another week. Top it off with some minicor carrots, mozzarella cheese, freshly grated pepper, and then a nice vinaigrette. My entire summer garden is almost completely planted. I’ve left a few squares open for a second planting of zucchini and for summer lettuce. But I’ll soon be emptying out squares of red ace beets, spinach, radicchio, and carrots. This should leave me plenty of open squares for my summer lettuce-which are the greatest to go along with those vine-ripened tomatoes. All my herbs are in-rosemary, cilantro, chives, parsley, garlic, and basil. And I’ve just planted 2 additional squares of red pontiac potatoes. Now’s the time to put your entire summer garden in for zone 6. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, corn, all your herbs, chard, lettuce varieties, beets, beans, scallions. And then get ready for a great harvest in a few weeks.

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Much planted, much to go

51914 gardenAfter tomorrow I’ll have a lot of newly emptied squares. To date I have a lot of the summer crops in and growing. Tomatoes, cucumbers, summer lettuce varieties, chives, carrots, chard, scallions, potatoes, nasturtium, peppers, basil, and bush beans are all in. In the next day I’ll finish planting all the rest-zucchini, patty pan and banana/butternut squash, beets, scallions, and maybe some thyme. I’ll continue to plant lettuce all summer long to make sure I have a large enough harvest by the time the tomatoes ripen. If you’re looking for a nifty little gadget to tell you what to plant and when, you ought to check this out. It’s free and easy to use. You’ll get an email periodically to remind you what to plant next. Read about it here.  Hope this helps out.

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Cut-and-come again lettuce

re-cut red sails lettuce 51214I have a new ebook coming out soon about lettuce and how to grow it in warm weather. I talk about using several techniques to be successful in doing so. One of those techniques is to use a cut-and-come again or loose leaf lettuce variety. Granted this isn’t the hot part of the season but your lettuce should behave just like this picture. Tomorrow I will be cutting this for the 3rd time. I started it in the winter and it’s still going. So far it’s grown back to this size in 3 weeks. I have many squares of this type of lettuce growing right now in my garden but this will become increasingly important in the next 8 weeks. Just cut it right above the crown of the plant and you’ll harvest it two more times after the initial cut. This is Red Sails-a readily available variety. Keep an eye out for my ebook-it will hopefully get here before the hot weather. It will be available on Amazon, my blog, and possibly the Square Foot Gardening Foundation as well.

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Summer time is about here

poc choi 50814It got here quick. Right now I’m in the process of cleaning out many squares to put in all the fun summer stuff: tomatoes(6 kinds), peppers(4 kinds), more lettuce, more leeks, more poc choi, cucumbers, beans, basil, parsley, and cantalope. By Sunday the temperature is slated to be 34 at night so I’m holding off until Monday evening to plant. I’ve got everything started and ready to be transplanted. This is Joy Choi-another delicious variety of poc choi. Not quit as big as varieties I’ve grown before but equally delicious. Watch that weather forecast. Two big news items-first: my ebook on lettuce should be out in several weeks. It’s how to grow it during the hot summer months-virtually impossible. Second: I will be writing a biography on the inventor of the square foot garden system-Mel Bartholomew. A weekend trip to San Diego is coming up for me to get this started. From the looks of it this should be a fairly good sized book. I’m thinking a year to finish it but I could be wrong. I’ve never done something like this before. What do you think about that? Let me know….

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Tips for starting a container herb garden: A guest article

fresh herbs-1
Fresh herbs are one of the most expensive items you can purchase at the grocery store. And what’s more, you have to buy them in bunches. But what if you just need a dash of rosemary or a sprig of thyme? Rather than buy overpriced herbs that might rot away in your refrigerator – unless you take the time to dry them – consider starting an herb container garden. You’ll have fresh herbs at your fingertips every time you cook. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Choose a Sunny Location

Your herbs will grow more leaves if you put your container herb garden in a sunny location with some late afternoon and early evening shade. Herb gardens are best kept near a water source and as close to your house as possible. By putting your herbs in a convenient space, they will be easier to care for and to collect. Placing a long, rectangular potting container along your window sill will give you even easier access to your herbs.

Large Pots and Good Drainage

For people who love to cook regularly with their fresh, garden herbs, consider using large pots with good drainage instead of dealing with a bunch of small pots with one plant each. A 12 inch pot, for example, can hold about three to four plants. Be sure to check the bottom for adequate drainage holes.

Plant Herbs That Like Similar Conditions

Next, you’ll want to plant herbs that enjoy similar conditions. For example, if your palate prefers the spices of the Mediterranean, you can plant Thyme, Sage, and Rosemary together. Oregano, Lavender, and Marjoram are also a good mix. All of these plants like lots of sunlight and soil that’s on the drier side.

Use Top Notch Potting Mix

Grab a bag of potting mix, also known as growing medium, instead of potting soil. Container herbs grow best in potting mix because of its sterility and its ability to simultaneously retain moisture and aerate. You’ll have to add your own fertilizer to the potting mix and look for potting mix that contains some or all of the following.

* sand
* fine pine bark
* peat moss
* vermiculite
* perlite

Use Just Enough Water

It’s important not to use too much water or not enough water in your herb container garden. If you use too much water, you can cause fungus growth, pest problems such as gnats and root rot. On the other hand, too little water can cause your herbs to wilt. Wilting can stunt or even kill a plant.

You should only water your herb container garden when needed. To determine this, stick a finger into the plants’ potting mix, about 2 to 3 inches down. If it feels wet, don’t water. If it feels dry, water. Also keep in mind that young, small plants require less water than their mature counterparts.

Herb container gardening is a rewarding and economically smart way to add fresh, healthy herbs to your favorite favorite recipes. By following these tips and starting your herb garden today, you’ll add a touch of healthy living to your life.

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All-star lettuce after a hard freeze

all-star lettuceWe’ve had 2 nights of hard freezes-one worse than the other. This is a picture of all-star lettuce. It’s a cut-and-come again lettuce that went through both nights with no protection at all. This is an example of how some things are more hardy when they are smaller. They did warm up and thaw by the end of both days. If this had been an established head of lettuce, after two freeze/thaw periods it would be a bowl of soup-all mush. I have other things that were protected and without exception everything is completely fine. The question I always ask myself when it gets this cold is “do I have anything in the garden that doesn’t like cold weather?” Fortunately I don’t. I’ve got a picture of some leeks where there is frost on the leaves and they are just perfect. By matching the right crop with the right season you eliminate all kinds of worries. As a side note, this spacing pattern breaks the general rule of planting lettuce. This is done because they will not be full heads of lettuce but rather part of a mesclun salad mix that will be cut only twice. After that, I’ll amend the soil and replant with something from the root or fruit varieties. Soil amendments and crop rotation. Couldn’t be any easier than this.

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TWE first spring delivery

TWE 041514-1st deliveryI only grow for 5 customers but this is the first delivery for the 6 week spring season. What’s in there you ask? Radicchio, mizuna, claytonia, cilantro, poc-choi, carrots, swiss chard, and an artisan lettuce mix. The mix has a combination of black seeded simpson, red cross and skyphos lettuce, spinach, and tokyo bekana. The whole idea is simple: take a handful of lettuce and add any of the other salad green “mix-ins” for a different tasting salad for several nights. It’s not really cheap but my customers enjoy the freshest tasting salad greens and veggies around-especially this early. None of the local CSA’s are up and running at this time. The greatest thing? Taste-taste-taste! And no chemical/pesticide/fertilizer residues-ever.

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Poc choi

joi choi march 2014I’ve been able to plant 5 or 6 squares of poc choi this spring. It’s too many-I probably only needed 3. Being planted at 4 per square foot, I’m not sure what I’ll do with 24 of them. About the only saving grace is they won’t come up all at the same time. You can see that there’s more than 4 in this picture. I was able to carefully lift out the extra plants and place them in other squares. I should have done it right from the beginning and only planted 1 or 2 seeds in each hole instead of what I ended up doing. This particular variety is a favorite of ours-Joy Choi. It’s a little more slender than the early variety I’ve grown before but just as delicious. These stir-fry’s with poc choi in them are just the best. My first spring harvest deliver season starts in less than 2 weeks. It looks pretty close to being ready.

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