So...What's Working or Not?
Now is a great time to take stock of what worked and what to change. This week we're going to deconstruct a few issues you may have seen with some crops this summer. Be sure to keep a log of what happens in your garden so you can make adjustments each year and not make the same mistakes twice! A small journal or word document works great.
We'll also cover seed saving and share some yummy recipes. Let's get to it!
Onions and daylight
Did your onions turn out small? You may have planted them too late. In New England, we grow long-day onions that need 14-16 hours of light (sunrise to sunset) during the peak of their growing cycle to form large bulbs. They are triggered to mature when daylight starts decreasing in late June, so we want the plants to be well-developed by then.
By mid-August, you’ll notice their tops falling over. You may think they need water or more fertilizer - but no! The keeling over is a sign, triggered by the shortening of the day length, that they will soon be ready to harvest.
So, the key to a larger bulb size is:
Getting your onion plants or sets in the ground very early in the season (late April or early May, once the soil has warmed to 40 degrees on Cape Cod). This lets them grow strong greens in June that will feed the bulbs come July when they are triggered to mature.
Choosing the right variety. Try Patterson for a large yellow onion or Redwing for a nice red onion that also stores well.
Learn more about choosing the right onions for your day length here.
Avoiding Early Tomato Blight
You may notice the lower leaves on your tomatoes are turning yellow and then brown, and not for lack of water. This disease is called early tomato blight, which like all blights, is a fungus that lives for years in the soil. We talked about similar blights that affect potatoes last month.
Even if tomato blight is in your soil, the disease is manageable if you respond proactively:
Don’t crowd plants – allow for good air circulations so dew and rain can easily dry from the leaves.
Mulch below the plants so the raindrops and your watering don’t splash soil onto the plants (remember the soil is where the blight lives). Keep those lower leaves clean.
Continually remove all stems and foliage below the remaining fruit. The plant doesn’t need these to grow or ripen the fruit above. Again, good air circulation is key, and removing lower leaves will help with this too.
Plant varieties that are resistant to early blight such as -‘Early Cascade’, ‘Floramerica’, ‘Jetstar’, ‘Manlucie’, ‘Supersonic’, and ‘Surecrop’.
Spray with compost tea every week or two. The organisms in the tea will fight the blight.
As with all blights, whatever damaged foliage you remove during summer and fall clean-up should be bagged and thrown away since composting them can incubate and spread the disease.
Managing Prolific Squash Plants
We are in love with winter squash! We grow a lot to store in our root cellar and cook with all winter. But we planted ours in an open area, and before long we couldn’t even see where the stems came out of the ground. Because of this, we had to water with a sprinkler, which can (and probably will) cause the plants to be affected by powdery mildew. Also, to move through the patch we risk stepping on stems, fruits, etc.
A solution is to construct a squash tunnel ( see above photo) to get vines and fruit off the ground. Seeds can be planted along the edge of the structure and trained to grow up the lattice when young. The base of the plants are exposed for easy watering and fertilizing, and air circulates nicely to keep leaves dry and mildew free.
You can use structures like this for any plants that climb:
Curious about saving some seeds this year? You're not alone! Save what grew the best (or tasted the best) and take control of where your seeds come from!
Here are a few seeds we find easiest to save:
Kale is a great choice. You can harvest the greens all season long and leave the plant in the ground through the winter. In spring, the plants will usually start greening up and you can continue to harvest greens. Around April the plants will begin to flower and eventually produces so you can harvest and plant again!
Dill will often go to seed a few months after you plant it. When it's young and the ferns are fresh, continue to harvest them. As the plant elongates it will send up flowers and then the seeds will form. Let the seeds dry on the plant to an olive-brown color, then harvest to use in making dill pickles, etc.
Do you have some heirloom tomatoes you want to grow again? When cutting into a ripe tomato to eat, scoop seeds into a small jar and fill it with water, then set the jar in a warm spot to ferment for 3-4 days. The good seeds will drop to the bottom, and the non-viable seeds will float. Pour off the water and bad seeds, rinse the rest in a strainer until clean, and spread them out to dry in a warm, well-ventilated area on a plate or tray (not paper towels which will stick to your seeds). When the seeds easily break in two, they are ready to store.
Most flowers are very easy to save seeds from. Just wait till the petals have fallen and the seed head is dry and slightly brittle. Have a container ready to collect the seed heads.
Pumpkins and winter squash are easy to save seeds from. Try it this fall! Select the best of the crop, scoop out the seeds, and wash them thoroughly in a colander to rinse off all the gelatinous material and strings. Spread the seeds on a baking sheet and let them dry somewhere with lots of air flow and no direct sunlight. Stir them every day or so for even drying. It may take a few weeks depending on the weather and moisture levels. Once you package them you don’t want any mold to form because it will ruin the seeds.
How should you store seeds once they’re dried?
Use whatever envelopes or containers you want, as long as the seeds stay COOL, DRY, and AWAY FROM LIGHT! We store ours in paper envelopes in the fridge, but other strategies may work for you. Check out this video for a bit more explanation.
There is one type of seed not worth saving - hybrid seeds (often labeled as “hybrid” or “F1” on the store-bought package). What’s a hybrid seed? It’s a seed that comes from intentionally cross-breeding, or “hybridizing” two parent plants with desirable traits. For example, breeders may cross a tomato that tastes great but looks lumpy, with another that tastes ok but looks beautiful. If the genetics are right, the resulting hybrid seeds will grow a delicious, beautifully looking tomato.
However, after the first generation of hybrid plants ( or “F1”), it’s possible for undesirable traits to reappear in the next generations due to factors of chance and genetic dominance. So, if you save seeds from that F1 hybrid tomato above, they may grow a lumpy, tasteless tomato - not what we want! If you’re intrigued by the science of seed saving and selective breeding, check out this video on hybrid seeds.
The main takeaway is don’t save hybrid seeds, since you may not be happy with the results.
More Recipes to Enjoy Your Harvest
We grow a lot of garlic every year on our little farm and when we cook we put garlic in everything! Why not? It adds such great flavor, the kitchen smells amazing and it supports immune health among many other things. The recipes below use garlic to add flavor and aroma. Beet and potato hash with fried eggs relies on a bit of garlic for its rich flavors, while the lemon garlic dressing for the raw kale salad softens the tough kale leaves and adds a spicy bite. Finally, as a stand-alone, garlic jam is great with any cheese spread, on grilled sandwiches or burgers, or homemade pizza. Take a look at all these recipes below!
Beet and Potato Hash
- Four medium/large beets, cut into ½” cubes
- Five medium/large potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
- One large onion, diced
- Four cloves garlic, minced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
- Spicy chicken sausages or bacon*
In a large frying pan, preferably cast iron, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. (*If cooking sausage, add sausages and cook through, browning on all sides, and then remove and leave to rest by the stove. If cooking bacon, skip the olive oil and cook the bacon until desired crispiness. Once cooked, remove from the pan to let rest and use the remaining bacon grease to cook your hash.)
After cooking your meat, add some additional olive oil to the pan as needed and then add the potatoes, beets, and a tsp of salt, reducing the heat to medium-low. Sauté for about 1 minute to coat everything with oil and then cover to steam for 5-7 minutes.
Add the onion and minced garlic and stir to incorporate, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add a bit of olive oil if things are sticking and turn down the heat just a tad. Cover and cook for about 7 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the cover, turn up the heat a bit, and add your fresh thyme, black pepper, and more salt if needed, sautéing for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes and beets are tended. Add back the sausage in slices or crumble the bacon back into the hash as this point if using.
If you’d like to add eggs, make a few depressions in the hash in the pan and crack eggs into them. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to medium-low again, and let the eggs cook until the white has solidified but the yolks are still runny.
Serve with salt, pepper, and a slice of your favorite seedy bread.
Chopped Kale Salad
- 1 large bunch of kale
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup chopped walnuts or slivered almonds
- 1 apple, chopped into matchsticks
Wash and de-stem the kale. Chop the kale into small pieces, about ½” lengths. The small size allows the garlic and lemon juice to soften the raw kale so it’s not so tough.
In a small dish, add lemon juice, minced garlic, a ½ tsp of salt, pepper to your taste, and olive oil. Mix and then pour over the chopped kale. Toss to coat and then let rest in the dressing for ½ an hour.
Meanwhile, chop the nuts and apple, and add to the top of the salad along with some dried cranberries. Enjoy!
- 6 heads of garlic
- ¾ cup olive oil
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Cut the heads of garlic in half crosswise, so each clove of garlic itself is cut in half. Blanch each head of garlic in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes and then drain well.
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a small baking pan and add the garlic cut side down. Roast in the oven for about 1 hour until the garlic is soft.
Squeeze the garlic out of the skins until a coarse strainer and press the roasted garlic through the strainer with a rubber spatula. Whisk them until creamy.
Tip: save the leftover olive oil for cooking.