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Growing Lettuce in the Fall & Early Winter

Growing Lettuce in the fall

We love lettuce fresh from the garden.  In fact we love lettuce so much that we do everything we can to have lettuce growing in the garden all year long.  Lettuce is, for the most part, a cool weather plant.  Most varieties of lettuce prefer to grow in temperatures not much more than 75 degrees.  We have found that fall is really the best time of the year to grow lettuce.  In spring you are rushing to get all your lettuce harvested before the heat sets in and turns the leaves bitter.  But in the fall temperatures are cooling making it the perfect time for lettuce growing.  And most years we can get lettuce to stay tasty until the middle of December with some protection.

So there are 4 important things to remember when growing lettuce in the fall.  Timing of planting, the varieties of seeds you plant, protection from the heat of late summer and protection from the cold of early winter.  Let’s talk about each of these.

Timing

If you are planning on growing lettuce in the fall the most important thing to keep in mind is the timing of when you plant those seeds.  You should aim to start getting seeds in the ground about 60 days before your first frost date.  For example our first frost usually arrives right around October 1st, so we start planting lettuce either in the garden or indoors in our seed starter on August 1st.  If your first frost date is November 1st then you could wait til September 1st to plant.  The key is 60 days.

 

Growing Lettuce in the Fall starts

Now can you get away with 45 days?  Of course, but 30 days before your first frost will be pushing it.  You need to have some well established plants by that frost date.  Also keep in mind that anything planted in the fall will take longer to mature than it would in the spring.  If your seed package says your lettuce will be ready to eat in 45 days then plan on 55 to 60 days in the fall.  Your daily amount of sun will be decreasing in the fall so it just takes longer for the lettuce to be ready.

Seed Varieties

Variety selection is the least important part of growing lettuce in the fall.  Really not a ton to tell you here.  Most lettuce that you grow in the spring will also do well in the fall.  But I would avoid “head” lettuce and stick with either leaf lettuces or lettuces that form smaller looser heads.  Butter Crunch lettuces do very well in the fall as they don’t form a heavy solid head.  Some smaller varieties of romaine lettuces also do well, we grow a variety called Paris Island that usually gets a nice head developed by late November.  Varieties that we have enjoyed and have grown well in the fall include black seeded Simpson, Butter crunch, Paris island cos, oak leaf, Nevada and most types of red leaf lettuces.

Protection from the heat in Late Summer

If your summers are anything like ours then 60 days before your first frost is probably still pretty hot!  In August we have at least 10 days over 100 degrees.  That can be rough on new lettuce plants.  So you do need to baby those seeds and seedlings a bit when growing lettuce in the fall.  First off be sure to keep your lettuce beds moist, not soggy wet but moist so that the newly planted seeds can germinate.  Until seeds have sprouted and are a week or so old I may lightly water my lettuce beds twice a day.  Once they are established they will do better but still be sure they get plenty to drink.

A simple frame hoop with some shade cloth on it can also really help your lettuce plants when it is still super hot.  This isn’t strictly necessary but it sure can help.

Another method we use to defeat the late summer heat is to start our lettuce indoors in our seed starter.  If you do this, it’s easier to control the environment that your lettuce grows up in.  I use some simple cell packs and thin to one plant per cell.  I keep them indoors for 4 to 6 weeks, fertilize them once a week with a good organic fertilizer and they will be ready to go out just a few weeks before your first frost.  This method also had the added benefit of producing a very pretty finished product.  It’s easy to plant a nice neat bed of individual plants that will look fantastic all fall!

Growing Lettuce in the fall 2

Protection from early winter cold

Lettuce is hardy, but it’s not super hardy.  It can handle a few nights of frost but will quickly turn to mush if it sits out unprotected for too many evenings with temperatures below freezing.  Simple protection is all it takes to get your crop to last well into the late fall and early winter.

Try buying some fabric row cover.  This simple and inexpensive garden tool can really save your lettuce from a cold night.  The heavier row cover fabrics can protect your crops for up to 6 to 8 degrees.  This means your lettuce will be snug and warm on nights as low as 26.

For even more protection try a hoop house or even better a cold frame.  Either of these simple structures will keep you growing lettuce in the fall well into the days when you have temperatures as low at 20 degrees!  You can learn more about Hoop houses and cold frames by following these links.  The links will hook you up with some posts I wrote on using both.  You can also go here to see a great post on how to build a really nice cold frame.

All great things must come to an end and the lettuce harvest usually comes to an end when night time temperatures reach that 20 degree mark (even in a cold frame).  So if it looks like your night time temperatures are going to drop below that mark and stay there for a few days then it’s time to harvest the rest of your lettuce and bring it in and put in the fridge.  Most lettuces will stay good in the fridge for at least another two weeks giving you tons of crunchy salads well into December.

Whole Wheat English Muffins

 

Whole Wheat English Muffins

I have always loved having an English muffin sandwich for breakfast.  I also loved making English muffin mini pizzas for dinner.  I love them even more now, because I make homemade whole wheat English muffins.  The store bought kinds don’t have much of a taste and their texture kind of feels like rubber.  I wonder what they add to them to make them last so long?

Homemade whole wheat English muffins on the other hand actually have a taste and it is so yummy and the texture is so much better.   They are very easy to make….I can’t believe I haven’t been making them sooner.  I promise once you make these, you will never buy them from the store again!!

Since we started eating real food, whole wheat English muffins are one of the breads I make twice a month.  They do not take very long to make and after they are done and cool, I put them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer.   My family loves them, because it gives them another quick option for a breakfast food before school.   All you need to do is defrost the whole wheat English muffins a little bit before so you can cut them and then toast them lightly…add a fried egg and a little spinach/kale, grab a fruit for a side and you have a great breakfast to start out your day!!

I found this Whole wheat English muffin recipe in a Betty Crocker cookbook.  I have modified it so that it will fit our real food life style.   There used to be shortening in it but I changed it to coconut oil instead.  I also grind popcorn to use as the corn meal.  I double this recipe so that I have more whole wheat English muffins to freeze.  You can make these all whole wheat…they do tend to be flat when it is all whole wheat so I end up putting at least  a cup of white flour in it and they raise a little better.   The next time I make them I am going to try them 100% whole wheat again, just to see how they turn out.

Whole Wheat English Muffins

1 pkg active dry yeast(2 ¼ tsps.)
1 cup warm water (at least 105 to 115 degrees)
3 cups whole wheat flour (I add a ½ cup to 1 cup of White)
¼ cup Coconut oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal.

 

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Add the flour, coconut oil, honey, and salt.  I use a pastry blender to break down the coconut oil first and then I stir it until water is absorbed.   I have noticed since I started putting coconut oil in it that the dough is stickier and so you may want to reduce the amount of it or put in less water…you may have to tweak it a bit to get it to work.  I have just been adding more flour and it has worked fine.

Whole Wheat English Muffins 1

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly until easy to handle, 5 to 10 times.  Roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness (make sure it is thick enough or it will be too thin and look like a pancake).  Then cut into circles…I use a lid from a big baking powder jar I get from Costco and it is about 4 ¼ inches wide.  It is the perfect size to fit those fried eggs in.   Sprinkle ungreased cookie sheet with cornmeal and place the circles 1 inch apart then sprinkle the top with cornmeal.  The cornmeal is super important because it keeps the circles from sticking to the cookie sheet, it is easy to get them off to cook and they won’t deflate after they rise.

Whole Wheat English Muffins

Cover the circles for about an hour and let rise in a warm place until light and airy.  Heat an ungreased electric griddle or skillet to 350 degrees (depending on how hot it cooks).   Place circles on the griddle and cook until they are a deep golden brown…which is about 7 minutes per side.

You can now eat your whole wheat English muffins by splitting with a knife and toasting or storing them in a bag in the freezer.  They really don’t take that much time and are fun and easy to make!  I hope you will enjoy these as much as my family does!

Monday Harvest Report – Cold weather harvests

Cold Weather Harvests

It has been a few weeks since I have done a official Monday harvest report.  So I thought this week would be a good week for a report on our cold weather harvests.  As with most of country, our weather has turned bitterly cold.  We are seeing temperatures that we don’t usually see until late December and January.  Burr!! We have had lows in the teens for the past few nights and even a little snow.  I’m worried about the quick drop in temps and the effect it will have our our cold frame crops.  I’m worried they won’t deal with it well because they didn’t have a chance to slowly adjust.  We went from 60’s in the day and high 30’s at night to 30’s in the day and mid teen’s at night in one day!  That can be pretty rough on plants.  I’ve been scared to even look!  I did check on the spinach yesterday and harvested a little and it seems fine but I’m sure the lettuce is suffering!

Cold Weather Harvests Tomatoes

So what are our cold weather harvests from the garden in November?  Lets start with tomatoes.  These of course were harvested green several weeks ago and have been setting in the garage.  We have used up or given away all of the tomatoes that were ripe when harvested.  What’s left is the big box of green fruit.  They are ripening a little faster that I would have liked.  That has to do with all the warm weather we were having up until last week.  It was pretty warm in the garage so they all took off quickly.  The ripening has slowed down this week as the garage is now like sitting at fridge temperatures.  But we have used about 4 of the 20 pounds that were in the green box so I’m including those in this weeks totals.

Cold Weather Harvests Oakleaf Lettuce

This was a small crop of oak leaf lettuce that was growing in a shaded corner of the garden.   It was away from the cold frames and was unprotected so we pulled the whole section up about two weeks ago.  It came in at only 3/4 lbs but the light beautiful leaves actually made several salads and lasted about a week.

Cold Weather Harvests Strawberries

We also had one last picking of strawberries.  About 1/2 pound.  These were picked November 1st.  We have had a lot of freezing nights since so the fruit that is left on the plants is ruined and we are done with fresh strawberries for the year.

Cold Weather Harvests Lettuce

Another harvest of lettuce from last week.  I cut these the day before all the cold weather set in.  This is a little more oak leaf and a head of Nevada.  The Nevada head was very dense and delicious!

Cold Weather Harvests Parsley

The biggest harvest over the last few weeks was the last of the herbs.  I just cut these yesterday.  Two big bunches of fresh parsley and a small hand full of chives.  That’s 3 pounds of parsley!  We will eat some of it fresh, give some away to the neighbors and dry the rest to use until next year!  The chives came from two new plants that we started from seed this year.  That actually represents the whole harvest for the year from those two plants, I put off harvesting any of them until now so that the plants could get well established so that we will get large crops starting next year!

Not pictured but included in our cold weather harvest are 2 pounds of broccoli, the only harvest we got from our aphid damaged fall planting.  Also we picked several handfuls of spinach to add to different meals over the last two weeks.  I’m estimating that we picked about 1/3 of a pound total.

Cold Weather Harvests Popcorn

Although the popcorn was included in the harvest totals several weeks ago I thought I would show you a shot of the finished product.  Our youngest daughter and I sat for about 30 minutes on Saturday and removed all the popcorn from the cobs.  I used a pair of rubber gloves to protect my hands (popcorn can be a little rough on bare hands).  The gloves also really helped make things go faster by improving my grip and tearing the kernels off quickly.  We had about 70 ears of corn that have been drying in the garage for about 30 days.  I knew we had our best harvest ever but I was surprised by the final volume.  The total came in just short of 11 pounds.

Cold Weather Harvests Popcorn 2

We put them in canning bottles and we came in with the equivalent of 5 1/2 quarts of popcorn!  Valerie is very excited because a supply this big will last us a long time even with as much popcorn as we eat around here.  I’m excited because it proves that I really can grow a grain crop (popcorn can be ground to corn meal) in my small garden.  Next year we are going to try and plant about twice as much so that we have all our popcorn and corn meal needs taken care of from our garden.

Here’s the harvest totals for the last 3 weeks:
Strawberries – .50 lbs
Lettuce – 2 lbs
Spinach – .33 lbs
Ripened Tomatoes – 4 lbs
Brocolli – 2 lbs
Parsley – 3 lbs
Chives – .20 lbs
Total – 12.03 lbs

That makes our annual total for the home garden 704 pounds .  We finally broke the 700 pound mark before the year ended!  There’s no way we will make our goal of 775 pounds because we lost all of our fall/winter kale this year to the aphids.  But I think we still have a shot at 725 pounds!

We will be joining several blog hops this week including the Tuesday Garden Party at an Oregon Cottage, Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes, The Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead and of course the Monday Harvest Report at Daphne’s Dandelions!

 

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

I have been making this whole wheat sandwich bread recipe for years…long before I started our real food adventure.  I just hated the taste of the whole wheat sandwich bread I was buying from the store!  So I decided to start making my own whole wheat sandwich bread! It tastes so much better and I know how to pronounce all of the ingredients in it.  I originally found this recipe in a Betty Crocker recipe book, over the years I have adjusted the recipe and my family just loves it!

Now that we are slowly converting to real food I have modified the recipe to make it healthier.  However, it is not 100% whole wheat!  I am working on that…I have been slowly adding a little more wheat to the recipe each time I make it.  I want to see how much I can put in it before it changes it too much.  I have some picky eaters around my house, who are not yet sold on the real food idea…so I am making changes slowly to all my recipes to make them healthier.  I would love to hear from anyone who has a 100% whole wheat bread recipe that they love.  I would love to try it.  I have tried a few and failed, and they just didn’t taste right.  I have tried different methods too but I still haven’t found the right recipe..so if you think you have a great recipe for whole wheat sandwich bread,  please send it to me, I want to try it!  Or post a link to the recipe in the comment section of this post.

This recipe used to have shortening in it but I have changed that to coconut oil instead.  Like I said I have been adding more and more wheat and less white flour each time I make it.  The original recipe calls for 3 c. of wheat flour and 3 to 4 cups of white flour…you can change this however you like..but I am listing the recipe with more whole wheat and you can choose to put in more wheat flour or less.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

5  C. Whole wheat flour  (The last time I did it I used 6 C. of whole wheat and 1 C. of white and added a little more yeast and it turned out fine…didn’t raise as much but it is the bread pictured…it tasted good too.)

1/3  C. Honey

¼ C. Coconut Oil

1 T. salt

2 pkgs active dry yeast

2 ¼ C. warm water (120 to 130 degrees)

1 to 2 C. of all- purpose flour

Mix the flour, honey, coconut oil, salt and yeast in bowl.  I use a pastry blender to help blend up the coconut oil.  Add the warm water and mix together.  Add enough white flour so dough is easy to handle.   Put the dough on a lightly floured surface to knead or do it like me and knead it in the bowl.   It is less of a mess I have to clean up.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.  Put it in a greased bowl, with greased side up and cover and let rise for 40 to 60 minutes.

The dough is ready when you touch the dough and the indent remains.  Punch the dough down and divide into two equal balls.   Roll out the dough to two 18×9 rectangles.   Then you fold 9 inch sides crosswise into thirds and overlap the sides.  Then roll up the dough as tight as you can, starting at the open end.  Pinch the seam across the bread and then press side of dough to help seal that too and fold its end under loaf.   You can now put your loaves in two grease bread pans seam side down and let rise for 40 to 45 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Place your loaves on the lowest rack so that they are in the center of the oven.

Make Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

I bake my loaves for 15 minutes and when they are a light golden brown on top…I put tin foil on the top of the loaves to prevent further browning.  I then bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.  You may have to change the time according to your oven and how hot it bakes and what pan you are using.  I use cast iron and in my oven it takes longer to cook the bottom of the loaves.  You want to make sure that it is cooked all the way through and isn’t doughy.  I just take a loaf out and slide it out carefully and check the bottom to see if it is lightly brown, if it is…then it is done.   It smells so yummy while it is cooking.  My kids love bread day because since no one will eat the end pieces after their frozen…I cut up the bread and they each get a couple of warm whole wheat sandwich bread end pieces with honey…mmmmmm it is so good.

Homemade Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

This recipe makes 2 loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, I double this recipe each time I make it so that I get 4 loaves.  I hope you like it. If you try out this recipe please let me know what you thought by commenting below.  If you have a whole wheat sandwich bread recipe that you use I’d love to try it!

Garden to pantry – Eating from the garden every day of the year

Garden to Pantry copy

For most of you long time gardeners this post will be old hat for you.  When you have gardened for a long time you learn how to store what you have grown.  But for those of you just starting out on your garden adventures here’s a look at what we have stored for the winter, fresh, canned, and frozen!  Our different storage options combined with our cool and cold season gardens mean we eat something from the garden almost every day of the year!!

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Fresh Items in Storage

Lets start with the fresh un-preserved foods we have in storage:

Potatoes – In a book I once read it said if you ever want a chance of providing most of your own vegetables for your family then you have to learn to grow A LOT of potatoes.  We started out with about 150 pounds of potatoes in storage this year.  We don’t have a root cellar so we are storing them in coolers in the garage.  This is our first year storing them this way and it’s not working out as well as we had hoped.  We have already seen a little mildew on a few so we have opened the lids and are keeping them in a dark corner.  Next year I think I’m going to build a nice big wooden crate for them that will allow more air flow.  We have about 100 pounds left and that should last us a few more months.

Onions – We ended up with over 50 pounds between the two varieties we grew.  These too have been moved out to the garage where it is cooler.  The Candy onions are not a real long storing onion so we maybe only have a month or two left before we will have to cut these up and move them to the freezer.  The copra on the other hand should last until May!

Green Tomatoes – We also still have around 20 pounds of tomatoes ripening in the garage.  About 1/2 of them are really ready to eat, so if we don’t use them up soon we will put them in the freezer.  The others will sit and slowly ripen over the next month or so.  None of these are as tasty as vine ripened but they are still garden grown!

Apples – We have a big box of Fuji apples that we bought from a local farmer.  We keep these out in the garage where it’s cool as well.  Most of these will be eaten fresh but they are also there so we can make a nice homemade apple pie or two for Thanksgiving.

Tomatoes

 

Canned Goods

We don’t do a lot of canning.  We have a pressure cooker but we really hate using it.  Most of what we can, we do in the water bath canner.

Pickles – Our cucumber harvest was pretty small this year so we didn’t can many pickles, in fact we only did a half batch and most of them are already gone, but we still have a few.

Beets – We also pickled beets this year and we have 5 bottles of them left.  They turned out AWESOME so I don’t expect they will last much longer as Valerie and I are eating them like crazy.  Next year we are doing a ton more.

Tomatoes – Most of our canning efforts went to tomatoes.  We ended up with 65 quarts this year which is our best year yet.  It will feel good to not have to ration bottles of tomatoes all winter.  We will use these in soups, casseroles, and sauces until we have fresh tomatoes again in July.

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Frozen Food

We like to freeze veggies and fruits.  Yes I know if the zombie apocalypse ever happens we won’t have a freezer but we know how to can, we just prefer freezing as it preserves the flavor and nutrients better.

Peaches – These also came from our local farmer and we have 16 quart bags we use for pies, cobblers and breakfast toppings.

Tomatoes – This is something new for us this year.  We read about freezing tomatoes on several blogs and as the season ended this year and we were sick and tired of canning tomatoes we decided to give this a try.  We have 5 gallon sized bags that we will use in soups and as salsa.

Green Peppers – We ended up with 3 gallon sized bags for the year, these will be used to flavor all kinds of dishes and will last over a year in the freezer

Peas – We had a ton of peas this year.  2 gallons from the garden and another 2 that we bought again for our favorite local farmer, who our oldest daughter works for.

Broccoli – This spring/summer was one of our best years ever for broccoli.  The over abundance of broccoli allowed us to freeze a bunch this year.  We have 3 gallon bags total.

Strawberries – It was a good year for strawberries, we have 3 gallon sized bags in the freezer -these will be used for yogurt toppings, smoothies and breakfast all winter long.  We would normally have that many bags of raspberries too but with the move, our new patch just produced a little this year.

Pumpkin Seeds – We have a few pints of seeds and we will add about that many more when we use up the rest of the pumpkins.

Corn on the cob – We love corn on the cob and have been freezing it for 5 years now.  This year we are trying something different, we froze them with the husks still on.  This is supposed to keep them fresher and tastier so we will see how it does. We have 10 bags of 4 ears each.

Sugar Peas – We have a gallon bag of these to add to stir fries all year

Melons – A lot of folks think we are weird to freeze melons, but they really turn out good.  Valerie and the kids eat them partially thawed as a snack and we also use them to flavor smoothies.

Summer Squash – We also always freeze a gallon or two of what ever summer squash we’ve grown.  Zucchini, patty pan, or yellow squash always make a great addition to our winter soups

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And of course we also have the winter cold frames where we grow lettuce, carrots, spinach, chard and other greens all winter long!!

So there you have it!  Our cupboards and freezer are packed full for the winter and now we can relax and enjoy the bounty of the garden all winter long!

Five steps to get your new garden started this fall!

Starting a new garden 5 steps

As fall deepens, gardening is one of the last things on many people’s minds.  If you have been thinking about starting a new garden fall is a great time to do it.  If you get your new garden spot set up now in the fall it will be ready for planting early in the spring and everything will get off to a good start.  So here are 5 things you should remember when starting a new garden:

Start Small

Over the years I have known many people that have decided they are going to grow their own vegetables.  They promptly rush to their back yard and dig up a huge section of lawn, till it up and throw in a bunch of seeds.  They have some early success with some lettuce and maybe a few peas then then the summer arrives with all its fun distractions and before they know it that huge beautiful garden they were planning becomes a huge weed patch.  All they end up getting are a few pathetic tomatoes and way too much zucchini!  They are so discourage that the next year the garden spot pretty much starts out as weeds and stays that way all year.  Finally two years later they are reseeding with grass and the vegetable garden adventure is over!

We have a big garden!  Our garden takes up almost half our back yard and is over 900 square feet.  It’s a lot of work but we love it and working in the garden is therapy for us.  But we started out small.  Our first garden, only 3 years after we were married, consisted of a small patch of strawberries.  As the years went on we slowly added a small garden plot that grew in size each year as we decided we wanted more an more of our own veggies.  But the key was we started small!

For a new gardener just starting a new garden I would suggest no more than maybe 100 square feet.  That’s a 10 by 10 patch.  Or maybe two 4 by 8 foot box beds.  The key for a new gardener is to keep it small and simple.  Vegetable gardening can be quite a bit of work and the new gardener can easily become overwhelmed.  But 100 square feet is fairly simple to manage.  The small size limits the amount you can grow and keeps your harvest manageable.  Only 10 minutes every other day should be enough time to water, weed and harvest.  You will be surprised how many veggies you will get and for a year or two this small garden will get you some good experience.  Then after you have started to get the hang of things you can slowly add more space!

Think about the Sun

Starting a new Garden - Tilling

Sun, Water and Soil are the three most important ingredients to a successful garden.  And in my opinion sun is the most important part of starting a new garden.  As you are considering where to put your garden pay attention to the amount of sun the spot gets.  If you live in North America then your garden should have as much Southern exposure as possible.   A garden planted on the north side of any structure will always struggle.  You need to look for a spot that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight each day, but the more the merrier!  10 or more hours of sun is ideal!

Stay away from fences, houses, trees and large shrubs.  It is fine to locate your garden on the south side of any structure there will be lots of sun there.  The south side of trees can sometimes be problematic as they trees will over hang the garden and shade it any way.  Now I know what I’m asking might be kind of hard, especially if you have a small yard like us.  So do your best, but be sure to locate your new garden in the sunniest spot in the yard.

Make Watering Easy

Having a source of water close to your garden makes watering your plants easy.  Having to drag a hose out to the back forty of your property means it will be a pain in the neck and you will put watering off and end up killing your plants.  Trust me, I’ve done it.  So locate your garden close to a water supply or make running a waterline to your new site part of your initial plans and do it first.  If you just say “one day I’m going to put a hose bid in here”  you will never get to it and your garden will always suffer from lack of water.

The soil

Starting a new garden - Compost

Good soil is an important feature of a productive vegetable garden.  When you are starting a new garden, plan on adding a bunch of high quality organic compost.  Your local garden supply stores should stock a good compost in bags or bulk.  No matter what your soil is like quality compost will help it!  And plan on adding compost every year!  Grass clippings and leaves can also be great additions to your garden soil, but be sure to only add them in the fall so that they have the winter to break down.  Adding too much rough organic matter in the spring can rob your soil of nitrogen as the microbes in your soil try to break down the fresh material.

Also consider doing a soil test.  The local extension agency of your state’s agricultural college should be able to help you with this (and yes every state has an agricultural college).  You can get a test kit from them and mail in a sample.  A few weeks later you will have results that you can take to a good garden nursery for advice on what you need to do to improve your soil (don’t bother with the big box stores garden departments, find a good local nursery with an expert staff).

Plant what you will eat

Starting a new Garden - harvest Basket

I remember one year when we decided to plant beets for the first time.  We put in a 15 foot row of beets and ended up with over 20 pounds of beautiful purple beets.  BUT it turns out no one in our family likes beets, by the time we were done harvesting our beets the neighbors were not answering their doors when we knocked!

Be sure you like the foods you plant!  If you only kind of like zucchini then you better only plant one plant, otherwise you will be buried in zucchini and you will never eat it.

Start out simple by planting a few types of tomatoes, cucumbers, a summer squash (zucchini or crook neck), some green beans, a few strawberry plants and a couple of kale plants.  Peas, carrots, spinach, onions, beets, lettuce, and radishes are also very simple to grow.  Pumpkins are also a good starter crop that your kids will love, but they do take up a lot of space.  Get your feet under you for a few years before you branch out and start growing other crops.  Corn and potatoes take up a lot of space.  Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, brussels sprouts, melons, garlic and many others are fun but are a bit more difficult to grow.  Stick with the basics for a few years until your gardening skills and knowledge grow.

The other thing I would encourage any new gardener to do is read!  Find every book about gardening you can get your hands on and spend your long winter evenings learning more about your new hobby.

Well I hope your now feeling inspired towards your goal of  starting a new garden.  Get out there this fall and get started now.  That way it will be all ready in early spring and you can get your crops off to a good start!!

Starting a new garden - Garlic

This post was featured first on Bakerette.com.  Thanks again to Jeni for allowing me to guest post!

Growing your own Popcorn

Growing your own popcorn - Easier than you think

We eat a lot of popcorn around here.  We make at least a batch a week, some times more.  Plain, buttered, caramel and more we love it!!  We even grind up popcorn in an electric mill to make our own corn meal for corn bread and muffins!!  One thing we don’t like is microwave popcorn.  Wow if you want a shock just look at all the junk that goes into a bag of microwave popcorn!  Yuck!!  We always pop our own corn with an air popper and we usually use an organic GMO free popcorn.

Growing your own popcorn - drying ears

A few years ago we decided to give growing our own popcorn a try and we have been super happy with the results.  This is our 2014 harvest.  Over 70 ears of corn!!  It’s super tasty, fairly easy to grow and fun for the kids!  And with the right varieties you can just tuck them into little spaces around your garden and you don’t even have to sacrifice a big block of space for them.  So here’s everything you need to know about growing your own popcorn.

First and most importantly if you are growing your own popcorn you (and your neighbors) can’t grow sweet corn!  There needs to be at least 100 feet separation between popcorn and any other type of corn.  If not, the two types of corn will cross pollinate and ruin both crops.  So if you live in a traditional neighborhood then you and all your surrounding neighbors can’t be growing any other corn.  If you are blessed to live on a large lot then be sure to have that 100 foot separation between the two types of corn.

Next plant early!  Most popcorn matures in around 105 days.  I would plan on at least 3 ½ months from start to finish.  So be sure to get the corn in the ground right around (or even a little before) your last frost date so that the ears have plenty of time for growing your own popcorn.

Third, popcorn likes lots of water!  Be sure to plant your popcorn in an area where you can get it a lot of water.  The first time we planted popcorn it went in what I would consider a very dry part of our garden.  We were rewarded for our short sightedness with very few and very small ears!  Since then we have been sure to plant in areas where it’s easy to get lots of water and the corn has thrived with 2 or 3 ears per stalk.

Also don’t forget that corn is a heavy feeder.  That means they use up a lot of the nitrogen in the soil.  So if you fertilize be sure to give the corn some.  If you are more organic then be sure to plant the corn in a rich spot of soil and then follow the corn the following year with something like peas or beans that will help replace the nitrogen lost to the corn.

Growing your own popcorn - on the stalk

Don’t worry about planting a big patch with long rows.  Instead plant your popcorn in small hills that have 5 to 7 plants each.  These hills don’t need to be much more that 18 inches round and can be tucked in any empty space in your garden.  The 5 to 7 plants, planted close together will pollinate each other and you don’t have to worry about the giant patch of corn taking up space.  You could even plant a hill or two in a large flower bed, this would add a nice tall visual element to your flower bed and give you something to talk to the neighbors about!

Growing your own popcorn - great decorations

Popcorn is ready to pick when the stalks and ears are completely dry.  Once you pick the corn the ears will need to cure for 3 to 4 weeks.  Curing popcorn makes awesome fall decorations.  So when you shuck the corn carefully pull some of the husk back and leave it attached for a great decoration.  We usually remove the husk and then let the corn sit outside in the sun for a week or so (just be sure it doesn’t get rain or frost on it).  Then we bring it inside and either hang it in the garage or spread it out on our onion drying rack for a few more weeks.

Growing your own popcorn - removing from the cob

The ears are ready for shelling when the kernels come off with a fairly aggressive twisting of the ear.  Depending on how you look at it shelling is either the most fun part of popcorn or the worst.  If you have a ton to do you should make a family project out of it, trust me 70 ears is a lot to do by yourself.  And be sure to wear gloves if you are doing more than just a couple ears.  Popcorn is a little rough on your hands.

You can pop the corn right on the cob if you would like.  Simply put the cob in a paper bag and put it in the microwave.  This is kind of fun for the kids to do, but to be honest it usually burns a bit so we prefer to shell it from the cobs and then pop it in an air popper or on the stove top.

Once you shell the corn store it in sealed glass jars in a cool dark spot.  If your corn isn’t popping it may need a little more curing time, so let is sit for a couple of weeks in the jar and then try again!

If you have a grain mill, home grown popcorn makes great corn meal.  I like this fact because that makes popcorn the only “grain” crop I can think of that you can grow easily in the home garden!!

We have grown two different varieties of popcorn, Yellow Hulless and Yellow Hybrid both from Mountain Valley Seed Company.  If I were to pick a favorite I would go with the Yellow Hulless as it had bigger ears and kernels.  There are lots of different colors available too, I’ve seen yellow, white, red, purple and even blue!

Growing your own popcorn - Finished product

If anyone has suggestions on growing your own popcorn varieties I’d love to hear from you.  I’d especially like to hear about any open pollinated or heirloom varieties you have tried!

 

We will be sharing this post on the following blog hops this week:

The Monday Harvest Report

The Homestead Barn Hop

 

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