Why You Should Thin The Carrots In Your Garden – Or Not!

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Carrot Couple

Carrots are people too… Earlier this spring, I planted a variety of heirloom red carrots by seed, then waited for them to germinate.  When I checked on the young seedlings, I knew they were spaced too close together and should probably be thinned.  Carrots need space to develop into the tall straight specimens we see at the market.  Carrot seeds are almost always seeded too close together, because they are so tiny. Thinning is recommended for the first time when the plants are 4 inches tall. Remove the smallest and scrawniest plants or those that are growing right on top of one another. Ideally the plants are thinned to about a thumb’s-width apart. The carrots can also be thinned again about a month later to about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.  By then the ‘thinned’ carrots should be large enough to eat as baby carrots.  Click HERE for more tips on planting and thinning carrots.  Obviously, you can see by my lovely carrot couple that I did not do the whole thinning thing.  I would make a terrible farmer.  I have always had a problem being ‘The Decider’ and choosing which plants get to stay and which get pulled out to only become chicken scraps, so I decided to leave them alone and see what happened.  Well, when I pulled a jumbled mass of carrots out of the ground the other day, I wasn’t so sure, but then – magic!  I know that the technical term for them is really ‘Ugly Vegetables’ but I have had so much fun with them.  They have so much personality!  Meet the rest of my carrot people:

Dancing Carrots

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Cool Dude with Rad Hair and Long Earrings

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Carrot Love

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More Carrot Love

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Carrot Family

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Carrot Gang

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Carrot Snake Impersonaters

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Another Photo of My Happy Couple

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Interesting Characters AKA Ugly Vegetables

I love my carrot people, but you get to be The Decider in your garden. For those of you that have personality carrots, send me photos!  For more information on proper carrot growing, here are a few more good sources:

http://www.thompson-morgan.com/how-to-grow-carrots

http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/3510/thin-plants-for-a-healthy-crop

http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/carrots-growing-guide

 

14 Vegetables for your Fall Garden

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Fall Vegetables to Plant

If your vegetable garden is anything like mine, some veggies are still healthy and bearing well like peppers and tomatoes, while others are listless and straggly, practically begging to be pulled up and out of their misery.  I am constantly replanting lettuces and chards as I harvest but it’s time to be thinking about how to keep our gardens going through the fall and winter.  Depending on where you live, certain summer vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, beans and squash will continue to grow until it gets too cold, certainly not surviving past the first freeze.  There are many plants like greens, root crops like beets and carrots, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower and bulbs like onions can handle cooler temperatures and some can even survive in the round all winter. So don’t give up on your garden now!  I just planted cauliflower and broccoli alongside my peppers and will continue to replant through September. I’m eagerly anticipating a bountiful winter harvest (doesn’t always happen as I tend to be a fair weather gardener) and planning delicious new recipes.

Click HERE for a round up of 14 Vegetables for Your Fall Garden from Living the Country Life.

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Or if you’re done gardening for the year, consider planting a cover crop like field peas or clover. Cover crops help suppress weeds, rebuild the soil by adding nutrients back in and control pests and diseases.  Last year I planted a cover crop for the first time of fava beans, which were gorgeous and looked like a bush full of butterflies.  I made the mistake of letting them set fruit which undermines the purpose of planting a cover crop as the nutrients the plants just put into the soil are taken back out to go into the fava beans.  On the positive side, at least I got a nice crop of fava beans!  If you are planting a cover crop to enhance your soil for next spring’s growing season, the plants should be cut or mowed while flowering for optimal benefit.  In other words, you don’t get to harvest the fruit.  For more information on cover crops check out this article by Organic Gardening. Happy planting!
Fall Vegetables Photo Credit:  http://www.growbetterveggies.com

 

In My Garden – June

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Somehow I missed May which went by in a blur, while I was attending weddings, graduations and bar mitzvahs.  Yet my garden survived.  I was too busy to notice my artichokes were ripe until it was too late, so I decided to let them flower.  Aren’t they glorious, and they’re not done yet!  The second one is about to bloom…

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Since I planted back in April, I have been harvesting a steady crop of lettuces.  There are a few ways to harvest lettuce (and  kale and chards).  You can cut the entire plant off at the base, remove the roots and replant.  Sometimes, a plant will regrow if you leave a few inches but I’m often too impatient to wait.  You can also just pull up the whole plant by the roots.  Or you can remove just the outer leaves and allow the plant to keep growing, which it does from the center (so don’t remove those leaves).  Eventually though, it will bolt (flower or go to seed) and you then need to harvest or cut back the whole plant.  I started my lettuces out in nice rows but by now it’s quite the hodgepodge, since I replant as I go, but I think it looks pretty that way.  I always have seedlings and mature plants going along together so something is always ready for my salad bowl .

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My tomato plants are mostly doing well and I have harvested a few tomatoes.  The Green Zebra and Black Krim were first.  This time of year, I remove all the yellowing leaves near the base of the plan!t and any others that look yellow, spotted or diseased. If you have any plants that really look sick, just pull them out and replace them with healthy seedlings.  It’s not too late . I just did that last week with one of my plants.   Tomatoes love to be buried deep and will put out more roots if you pile soil amendment around them.

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My new experiment is with companion gardening.  I have had terrible luck growing basil.  They seem to be eaten to the ground by the next morning after planting.  So I planted them among my tomato plants and they have so far lasted almost a week. Apparently tomatoes repel the critters that like basil.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

 

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I have been harvesting blueberries about a half cup at a time, just enough to eat for breakfast or add to a salad, but they are delicious!

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My zucchini is just starting to grow up the trellis and I have a few harvestable fruits.  Hmmm, recipes starting to swirl through my head…Send me your best ideas!

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Sugar snap peas are making their way up the teepee but not producing yet.

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My non GMO corn is two or three feet tall.  I have never grown corn before, I’m excited about my tiny crop!

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My main problem, though has been critters.  It’s wild animal kingdom here!  Most recently, it’s gophers. If you have ever found mounds like these that my dog, Lola, is checking out in my lawn, you know what I mean!  This time of year their babies are learning the new routes underground, so there is lots of activity and they leave giant earth mounds in their wake.  About 10 or 15 years ago I became obsessed with the gophers and went “Caddyshack”.  I have vivid memories of trying to smoke them out and running around blocking all the exits as smoke kept finding new areas to escape, as my small boys watched, noses pressed to the window.  “Mommy’s gone crazy!”  The gophers were too smart for that though and just went to lower ground to wait it out.  Over the years, however, I have just learned to co-exist with my subterranean ‘friends’.  I try to keep them off my lawn and out of my vegetable garden and pretty much let them roam to their hearts content around the rest of the property.  I have tried all kinds of home remedies, hot red pepper, hair clippings, windmills and several others to no avail.  The product that I am having the best luck on my lawn with is Repellex, which is a repellant not a poison, made with castor oil, cinnamon oil, garlic oil and white pepper. They don’t like the smell or taste and they stay away. It is non-toxic and biodegradable but wears off in about a month or so, so you have to reapply.

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The main task though is WEEDING!  Do it now while the soil is still soft or it becomes back breaking work. The second task is to  mulch or amend the soil, especially in California with our drought conditions.  Mulching provides nutrients and helps retain moisture in the soil.

I am only a weekend warrior gardener, so check out the links below for some expert gardening tips.

What To Do In the Garden in June – About.com Regional guide for ornamentals, vegetables, fruit trees, trees and shrubs and pest control.

Calendar of Gardening Tasks for June – The Garden Helper  Tips on flowers, shrubs, vegetables and lawn care (even house plants).

How to Plant a Vegetable Garden in June – eHow  For those that haven’t planted yet.  It’s not too late if you do it right!

 

Homemade Non-Toxic Weedkiller

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This is where Lola, my dog, hangs out when I’m gardening.  This area tends to get lots of weeds which are unattractive.  To get rid of them I have to hand pull (hard work) or spray with something like RoundUp (poison).  I don’t like spraying poison around my vegetable garden and I also don’t want Lola laying on poisoned bark, so when I came across this natural homemade recipe for killing weeds, I had to give it a try.  There are just three ingredients:  distilled white vinegar, salt and dishwashing liquid, all items which you probably already have in your pantry. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which effectively kills weeds and other plants.  The soap attacks the outer protective layer of the plant and salt kills the weeds and absorbs into the ground, preventing all plant growth so this solution is only good in areas you don’t want to replant, like driveway cracks and barked or pebbled areas.

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Combine the three ingredients in a spray bottle and voila! you have a non-toxic weedbuster.   I sprayed my weeds on a warm day, since it is more effective on hot, sunny days than on drizzly or foggy days.  Check out my results!

DAY 1:  I SATURATED THE WEEDS WITH MY NON-TOXIC MIXTURE.

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DAY 2:  WEEDS ARE NOTICEABLY YELLOW/BROWN AND WILTED.

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DAY 5:  WEEDS CONTINUE TO DISINTIGRATE AND HAVE NOT TRIED TO GROW BACK.  I CAN NOW EASILY REMOVE WHAT IS LEFT OF THEM WITH A RAKE OR COVER OVER WITH FRESH NEW BARK.

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VERDICT:  SAME OR BETTER RESULTS AS WITH ROUNDUP BUT WAY BETTER FOR MY GARDEN AND THE ENVIRONMENT (AND LOLA).

Homemade Weed Killer

1 gallon of white vinegar
1/2 cup salt
Liquid dish soap (any brand)
Empty spray bottle

Put salt in the empty spray bottle and fill it the rest of the way up with white vinegar. Add a squirt of liquid dish soap. This solution works best if you use it on a hot day. Spray it on the weeds in the morning, and as it heats up it will do its work.  WARNING:  Only use in areas you don’t wish to replant.

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And one more cute dog photo just for fun…

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Creative Vegetable Garden Ideas

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Do you dream about picking fresh herbs and sun ripened tomatoes right from your own back yard?  Have you always wanted to have a vegetable garden but didn’t think you had the space or weren’t sure how to get started?   If you have even the smallest space or a super short growing season you can stilll have a garden. I am always amazed at how creative people can be.  I have been gardening for years and still keep coming accross great new ideas to incorporate into my vegetable garden so that my garden gets better every year.

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 So what is your garden style? Are you neat and orderly or creative and artistic? Do you like garden art, bird houses, or even a butterfly house?  Do you want a place to sit and enjoy your garden or somewhere to put your gardening tools?  How about an ‘owl’ to guard your veggies or a fabulous way to preserve time by placing stepping stones with special dates or footprints.

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There are many ways to design a vegetable garden.  You can plan a dedicated vegetable garden or you can have a mixed garden where you also plant vegetables in the ground alongside your marigolds and petunias.  For those with  limited space, if you have a glimmer of sunshine, you can usually find a place for at least one small planter even if you have to think outside of the box and go vertically.  If you live on a hill try terrace planting.  Or you can do what my friend, Elizabeth, did and dig up your entire front yard and plant a giant vegetable patch.

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Garden types:   Gardens are as different as people are.  What  gardeners share though is the almost ridiculous sense of satisfaction we  derive from the bounty that is harvested from our gardens. Nothing can compare to harvesting your first beautiful head of lettuce or that perfect purple globe eggplant, right when you need it, and eating it minutes after it has been picked,(and bursting with flavor and nutrients) not days or weeks.  So look through the following gardens to find your inspiration and start planting.  Soon you will be reaping! Thank you to my friends, Patti, Judy and Elizabeth for sharing their beautiful gardens with us!

 

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Dedicated Garden

My vegetable garden is in one area of my yard, specifically dedicated to veggies.  I have a tiered L shape raised bed in which I grow lettuces, chard, beets, many pepper varieties, onions and leeks on the right L.  Behind that are artichokes, squash, grapes, blueberries, and hopefully soon a towering row of sunflowers.  On the left L, I have radish and rainbow carrot seeds started, along with pole beans, snow peas and assorted herbs.  I also have two large planter boxes (which may be in their last year of service) designated for tomatoes.  If I were to grow only one thing it would be tomatoes.  Nothing can compare to eating a fresh tomato still warm from the sun.  I am trying vertical gardening this year to keep the veggies that like to sprawl (like squash) off the ground and support tall veggies (like beans and peas) with trellis and teepees.  They are small now but soon they will be twining their way up to the top.  I have used the teepee for years.  It works great and is easy to put together.  Mine is just spare wood held together with twine.  The trellises I purchased at Home Depot but they are available at most garden stores.

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Tip:  I plant tomatoes early, in part because I’m anxious to get started, but also because I sometimes lose out on the varieties I want if I don’t buy them when I see them.  Since it’s still chilly at night (below 55 degrees) which stunts plant growth and causes blossoms to drop without producing fruit, I wrap my tomatoes in garden cloth at night which can raise the temperature inside their little garden ‘beds’ a surprising 8 or 9 degrees. I use hairclips for easy wrapping and unwrapping.  As a result, I already have a few tomatoes!

Container garden.

My friend, Judy uses a variety of containers, in particular these galvanized stock tanks which are sleek and modern.  She can actually grow quite a bit of produce in each of them.  She added irrigation so growing tomatoes, chard, beans, lettuce, peppers and other veggies is pretty easy for her to maintain  once she got them going.
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Combination Garden.

Another local friend, Patty incorporates her vegetable plantings throughout her back yard.  She has some raised beds but also looks for sunny spots in her garden that are empty and plants veggies, tomatoes in particular. Patti is growing the most enormous in-ground artichokes which come back stronger and larger each year, along with kale, chard and many lettuces. She also uses living archways to create  outdoor ‘rooms’ which are quite charming.  After spending some time in Patti’s garden, I am inspired to add some archways at both entrances to my garden which will be a fun project this spring.

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Back/Front Yard In Ground Gardening

When Elizabeth remodeled her backyard into a beautiful courtyard, she no longer had room for a vegetable garden, so she dug up her front yard and created quite a beautiful garden.  She is off on a fabulous trip and hasn’t planted her garden yet this year but was kind enough to send me photos of last year’s garden. As I recall, there were many vegetables planted between the flowers and sunflowers resulting in a beautiful and bountiful garden.

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For more cool gardening ideas and info on what to plant, when to plant and how to plant, check out the great links below:

Click on SproutRobot and enter your zipcode for a week by week planting guide in your area.

Click on Better Homes and Gardens for vegetable garden plans for every season.

 Click on the photos below to see the original post or for more information.  Some of these people have really good ideas!

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In My Garden – April

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Spring has sprung! Sounds like a cliché, but I can see how that saying came to be. Crocuses, the harbingers of spring, seem to spring out of the ground overnight. Even my east coast friends who are buried under piles of snow will be soon posting facebook photos of crocuses blooming as the snow starts to melt. In Northern California, camellias and azaleas are in full bloom and the puffed up buds on my Rhodies tell me they are about to burst into their annual glory as well.  My fruit trees are buzzing with bees, flitting from blossom to blossom busy pollinating the next generation of baby fruit.

 

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In my garden, I have rather large, healthy looking fava bean plants, which have an unusual but beautiful flower.  I planted them for the first time at the end of fall as a winter cover crop to add nitrogen to the soil and improve soil quality (and because I love fava beans).  They better hurry up and do their job though because they are growing where I’m going to plant tomatoes.

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I also have green and red chard, a mixture of lettuces and an abundance of sugar snap peas, all of which I planted early to take advantage of our mild ‘winter’.  As I harvest chard or lettuce, I replant with seedlings so I usually have a combination of baby seedlings and large mature heads/bunches.  You can also just pick the outer leaves and the plant will keep producing but eventually it goes to seed and the leaves start to get bitter.  My next door chickens love it when I neglect my garden and let plants go to seed, since they get to peck at the spoils.

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In your garden, it’s time to clear out all the weeds before the ground gets too hard and they become impossibly tenacious. Roses should have been cut back and new growth beginning to emerge.  Now is the time for soil preparation and amendment, fertilizing to encourage healthy growth and mulching to discourage weeds and retain moisture in the soil (particularly important during drought years). In a Northern California vegetable garden, plant cool weather crops like snow peas, carrots, lettuce, chard and kale. Tomato seeds can be started indoors .  Tomato seedlings planted now are at risk of damage from frost.  It’s better to wait until nighttime temperatures are reliably above 55 F /13 C.  If you are in a rush (like I often am), you can protect them with a cover at night but keep in mind that growth could be stunted and blossoms won’t set if the nights are too cold., i.e. the blossoms will fall off without producing fruit.  I use garden cloth clipped together with plastic mini hair clips but even an old sheet will help keep temperatures stable and shield delicate plants from the cold wind.   Garden cloth can also be used to protect tender seedlings from wild animals who treat our vegetable gardens like their own personal salad bar.

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Later in the month, (once the risk of frost is over) sow seeds or plant seedlings of warm-season crops such as beans, corn, and squash, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.  Now is a great time to sow wildflower seeds which are scattered either in  fall (September through November) or early spring (March through May)  or one or two weeks before average last frost.  A great choice in a drought year is Oenothera (Mexican Primrose).  This delicate pink flowering plant is very hardy and can withstand almost any heat or drought – great for dry hillsides and unattended areas.  Another good drought tolerant wildflower is Scarlet Flax, a showy red flower, which blooms spring to fall.

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Click here for more detailed information on gardening in your area.  There are also links to rose care and Veggies 101-How to start your vegetable garden: http://www.sunset.com/garden/garden-basics/what-to-do-in-your-garden-in-april-00400000041780/