Hill Country Red Okra
While I do enjoy a structured, planned out garden – with perennial beds here, and neat rows of vegetables over there – sometimes I long for the randomized beauty of a cottage garden. I imagine roses rambling, bee balm swaying, and even vegetables mixed in with the hardy geraniums and cosmos. Many herbs and a few veggies have a growth form that lends itself well the organized chaos of a carefully planned (so as to look completely unplanned) look of a cottage garden. Okra is one of those plants.
Okra, a full-sun veggie, originally arrived in North America from Africa in the 1600s. The first cultivars were tropical plants, and okra became a staple side dish in the South, where it was also used as a thickener for stews and gumbo. Some varieties can reach up to 6 feet tall, and with their large hibiscus-like blossoms, okra can be a great addition to a garden border or bed. A few cultivars even have colored stems- such as Gurney’s Hill Country Red Okra, an heirloom vegetable with red-orange stems and green and red pods.
If you would prefer to grow your okra as part of your vegetable garden, a raised bed will work, or a sunny spot with fertile soil. Because okra does best in very warm temperatures, wait until the soil has warmed up and the air temperature is over 60°. Prior to planting, nick the seed coats or soak them overnight to speed germination. Seeds can also be started indoors about 6 weeks before setting them outside (wait to transfer outside until 4 weeks after last frost). For direct sown okra, sow seed about half an inch deep, space 3 inches apart, and keep rows 3 feet apart- remember, okra grows fast and gets big. Thin seedlings to about 24 inches apart, keeping the strongest of the plants for highest success.
Clemson Spineless 80 Okra
Mulch should be used to help retain soil moisture and keep out weeds, but be careful- okra plants have very fragile taproots, so care should be taken when they are transplanted and when weeding. Compared to other vegetables, okra is very drought-tolerant, but if you want good pod production, consider watering at least an inch per week, just like other vegetables. As summer heat rolls in and your other vegetables fade, okra will start to grow- fast. Tender pods follow the gorgeous blooms, and must be picked early as they get tough and stringy if they stay on the plant too long. Once your okra is producing, it’s a good idea to check it every day for any pods that might be ready for harvesting. When harvesting okra, wear gloves and long sleeves, as the stiff hairs on the leaves can cause itching. Or, opt for a spineless variety such as Clemson Spineless 80 Okra. Remember, okra is a “cut and come again” vegetable, so harvest often- and share your bounty!
Twilight Hybrid Eggplant
The word, “aubergine” rolled of the tongue of our neighbor much easier than it did mine. I can remember the gorgeous deep purple fruits and the dense feeling of holding them freshly picked. I’d walk home and tell my mom Mrs. Scott had given us another eggplant- then I would try to mimic the way she said “aubergine,” making this vegetable sound mysterious and elegant. Then it would sit, sadly, as no one in my house really knew what to do with it. I just knew that I took Mrs. Scott tomatoes from our garden, and she gave us “aubergines.”
As an adult, though, I adore eggplant- it’s my favorite thing to find at farmers’ markets. The more unique the coloring, the better- from pale white to long skinny violet and striped squat globes, eggplant varieties are extraordinarily unique. Also, I’ve learned how to use them- roasted and pureed in Baba Ghanoush; sliced and grilled with a little EVOO; or thinly sliced and layered with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella and baked to perfection for my own enjoyment as eggplant Parmesan.
Bianca Rosa Eggplant
Growing eggplant is much easier than I thought it would be. Eggplants make great container plants and do well in raised beds, which get warmer soil earlier in the spring. If starting your plants from seed, it’s a good idea to start seeds several weeks (6 to 9) before the last fast frost. Or, buy already-started plants and place them in the ground after the last frost. Eggplants love warmth and do best in sunny, well-drained spots in the garden, and plants should be mulched around the base to retain moisture and keep roots cool. Most varieties grow into tall, stately plants- making excellent statement pieces as singular planting in pots, or lining the sunny edge of your vegetable garden. It’s a good idea to invest in some type of liquid fertilizer or food, such as Gurney’s Vegetable Food and some cages or supports like the Pepper and Eggplant Support.
Some varieties I have my eye on this season:
Rosa Bianca Eggplant: An Italian heirloom eggplant, I’ve seen the fruit from the Rosa Bianca at farmers’ markets. The coloring alone makes me want to grow it; the fact that it is a favorite of chefs makes it a definite choice for me.
Twilight Hybrid Eggplant: High yields are the big promise of this traditionally- colored eggplant. This one would be a vegetable garden staple (and most like the ones Mrs. Scott shared with me when I was growing up).
Ophelia Hybrid Eggplant: This one is perfect for containers, with a compact habit the lilac and white blooms that are just stunning! Easy to grow and great for cooking, plus does well in tight spaces, this eggplant would be the best one for beginning gardeners or those with small spaces.
So, sound off- are you growing eggplant? Any tips and tricks for our readers?
Our new Space Hybrid Spinach
We all know spinach is good for us. It might not make us pop muscles like Popeye, but spinach is packed with fiber and vitamins—A, C, E, K, B6—and calcium, folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium, Spinach is a perfect vegetable. Fresh spinach is a fantastic addition to salads, or a great way to boost the fullness factor of omelets and sandwiches. Spinach is a cool weather crop and can be planted and grown alongside Swiss chard and beets. Because it grows fast, it’s also a great way to introduce kids to gardening – I’ve found that gardening makes my kids more interested in those leafy greens they used to find unappealing!
Planting and Harvest
Vital Green Spinach
Because spinach loves nitrogen, it’s best to loosen the soil and add nitrogen-rich fertilizer prior to planting. Spinach can be planted and harvested in most growing zones twice a year, so plant 4-6 weeks before the last frost in spring and 6-8 weeks before the first frost in fall. Once the daylight is longer than 14 hours in spring, spinach will bolt; heat also speeds up bolting, so perhaps plant a non-bolting variety if you want a longer spring harvest. In warmer climates, spinach does well when planted in the shade of taller crops, such as beans and corn or under trellises. Once planted and the seeds sprout, take time to thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart, as overcrowding will stunt growth and encourage plants to go to seed. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, as water stress can also make spinach plants bolt.
Gurney’s Goliath Spinach
Harvesting spinach usually happens 6 to 8 weeks after planting, or as soon as leaves are big enough to eat. Only remove the outer leaves and allow the center leaves to grow larger, which allows the plant to keep producing. As the weather heats up in spring, and your plant gets ready to bolt, pull the entire plant and enjoy the leaves before they get bitter.
One of the easiest varieties to grow is Spinach Space Hybrid. Ready 40 days, Space Hybrid has high yields and a long harvest window. It also has resistance to heat, bolting, downy mildew, and other diseases. The small, smooth rounded leaves are a different shape for spinach- and very tasty.
We’re pretty excited about our exclusive spinach – Gurney’s Goliath Spinach. Slow to bolt, with a sweet, mild flavor, this variety is perfect for both spring and fall planting, and ready to harvest in 40 days. It rivals our old favorite, Vital Green.
What’s your favorite variety? Have spinach story to share? Sound off in the comments!
With as much as I love carrots- and the bags we eat of them every week- you’d think I’d have mastered growing them long ago, right? Wrong. Carrots stumped me year after year. One spring my kids found carrots on seed tape and we planted them at the completely wrong time. Luckily, though, I was able to turn my carrot fortunes around!
I have everything I need – sandy soil, free from rocks, with a neutral pH – seriously, that’s it. These are the only things you need to grow carrots. The rest comes down to timing, and since I tend to plant things and forget them, or plant things too early, I made this super-easy carrot countdown – and I’m sharing it with you guys, along with some of my best carrot-growing tips!
- Start your carrots 3 weeks before the last expected frost- then, on your calendar, mark down to plant your carrots again 2 to 3 weeks after that. Your last planting should go in the ground 3 months before the first fall frost- which doesn’t give you many plantings if you are in the northern growing zones.
- Either double till your soil or use a raised planting bed. Nice, loose soil is best. Some carrot varieties, can handle dense clay soil (these are the more squat, sturdy varieties instead of the long, slender carrots).
- Do your research on carrot varieties instead of randomly grabbing a packet. Besides needing to know the soil requirements of a variety, doing your research means that you can choose the carrot that is best for your garden. Go with a proven variety, like Gurney’s Choice Tendersweet. Tendersweet has great color that stays- even when cooking and freezing- and is nearly coreless, making it a great snacking carrot. Or choose something totally different, like Purple Haze. Purple skin surrounds a bright orange flesh, making this a fun variety for grown-up and kid-friendly gardens. The purple might boil away in water so if you love the color, roast your carrots instead.
- Make your life a little bit easier and invest in a Mini-Seedmaster to help with planting. Carrot seeds are itty-bitty, and I can not tell you how many times I have gotten frustrated and just started tossing handfuls of seeds around. Bad idea. Carrots thrive on order- nice tidy little rows, best for thinning and weeding.
- Thin, thin, thin. This is a crucial step I always forget about- so mark it on your calendar. Once plants are an inch tall, thin them out so they have about 1 to 3 inches between plants. Don’t pull them out- thin with a pair of scissors and minimize the risk of damaging nearby roots. Avoid crowding- crowded carrots produce crooked roots.
- Weed. A lot. One more thing to put on your calendar. Why weed? Weeds pull water- a lot of water- away from the roots of your other plants. And carrots? A root crop. They need that water that the weeds are slurping away.
Purple Haze Carrots
Once your carrots are about a half inch in diameter and about 2 to 3 months old, they are ready to harvest. If you aren’t quite ready, leave them in the ground. Once you harvest them, twist or cut off the tops, scrub the carrots under cold water, and let them dry before sealing them in plastic bags and place them in your refrigerator. These steps are important- if you just harvest them and put them in the refrigerator, you will have limp, sad, wilty carrots in a few hours.
What varieties of carrots are you planting- or which varieties have you had success with? We’d love to hear your carrot commentary!
I look at basil as the introductory herb- and herb gardening snowballs from there. I grew tomatoes in a container on the porch of our apartment in college, something my roommates thought was ridiculous until we had an abundance of fresh tomatoes and I made my favorite summer salad- sliced tomatoes with whole basil leaves and sliced fresh mozzarella. One of my co-workers suggested I plant basil around the base of my tomato plant- and it’s been a staple ever since, the two automatically going together every time I put together a container garden. I look forward to summer because it means I save money- a seed packet for Flat Italian Parsley costs less than a bunch of fresh parsley at my super market and gives me way more than I can use in a week. And I can certainly justify spending money on a packet of cilantro if it means I can make homemade guacamole and toss fresh sprigs in my salad for a few weeks.
Fresh herbs have enjoyed a comeback over the last few years in the cooking world (for many of us, they never left). And they are extraordinarily easy to grow from seed- either in containers, small pots, window boxes, or vegetable gardens. You can even spread herb plants throughout your perennial garden, as most herbs have attractive flowers (and some have edible flowers) and blend right in with a cottage-garden feel. Herbs like full sun, but if you do have partial shade, make sure you have afternoon sun for your plants. There are annual herbs, biennial herbs, and perennial herbs- so read your packets carefully. And while most herbs like well-drained soil, a few that are woody, such as rosemary and thyme, actually prefer a grittier, sandier soil. Interested in growing some herbs and spicing up your garden- and your cooking? Here are a few staples to get you started:
I did mention that it was my favorite, right? Whether you choose Sweet Basil or Large Leaf Italian Basil, you’ll be plucking leaves and searching for more and more recipes to use your bounty! Basil is excellent with tomatoes, but also good roasted on bread with a little cheese, or even as an extra additive in homemade lemonade.
Prized by cooks for it’s peppery flavor, use tarragon to flavor meats and sauces.
Get ready because dill gets massive! Dill seeds grow into tall plants with gorgeous flowers- and they give you so many leaves for seasonings, you’ll be snipping and sharing all season long.
Coriander seeds and cilantro leaves come from the same plant! Use both the leaves and the dried seeds for seasoning; they’re a favorite in both Mexican and Indian cuisine. Cilantro is a favorite in salads and salsas.
This is my go to- I use it in tuna salad, sprinkled on pasta, chopped up in tabbouleh. I prefer growing flat leaf parsley but have also grown the curly leaf version with much success.
Interested in growing a small, table-top container herb garden? Make sure you pick varieties that won’t get 2-3 feet tall (so…avoid dill!). Herb garden planters look perfect in the kitchen, and they make great gifts!
What herbs do you grow? Have a favorite? Let us know in the comments!
Candy Apple Onions
Onions are supposed to be fool-proof. At least, that was what I was told in the small produce department of our local market. They were selling onion sets- red, white, or yellow- and at first I just thought they were mini-onions. The gentleman stacking the sets explained that all I had to do was poke a hole in the earth, stick the onion in, and it would grow. Seemed easy enough for me- but, of course, I soon ended up with a mess of wasted white onion sets.
Where did I go wrong? First up, onions can be planted three different ways- through seeds, through sets, or through transplants. Choosing to plant by seed means you have a greater variety of onions to choose from; however, it can take a lot longer- up to four months- for your crop to mature. Sets are bulbs that were grown the previous year, harvested while small and immature, and ready to plant. Sets do grow fast and are early to harvest, but they can also send a flower stalk up too early (called bolting). Transplants are seedlings that were started during the current season, and normally do form good bulbs in under 70 days, but they are more subject to disease and choice of varieties is limited. I had not really investigated planting onions at all, so I just grabbed what was there – a set- and chose white because I liked cooking with white onions. Looking back, I should have done some research so I had an idea of what kinds of onions would do best in my Northern garden, then ordered transplants or arranged to start seeds indoors for the next growing season.
Next, I did simply poke a hole in the ground, stick the onion bulb in, cover and wait. Instead, I needed to start my onions in furrows (raised rows) and prior to planting my onions, I should have mixed some fertilizer, such as Gurney’s Onion Food into the soil at the bottom of the furrow, so as my onion started growing roots, the food would be there. And, as my onions began to grow, I needed to lightly mulch around them with a fine mulch (grass clippings would do) and keep the area weed free and with a steady supply of water. I know that year I mulched everything in my vegetable garden with my leftover mulch from out front, and I have no idea how much water the onions were- or were not- getting. Because I didn’t know what type of onion I had (white sets, variety unknown), I could not determine the amount of sunlight my onions needed. Keep in mind to form nice, big roots, some varieties that need only 10-12 hours of summer light do best in the south, while others that are long-day types (13-16 hours of summer light) do better in the Northern latitudes.
Onions can do well in raised beds, and I think this upcoming season, I’ll try planting mine in raised beds- and also try growing from transplants, particularly Gurney’s Choice Candy Hybrid Onion. The Candy Hybrid does well in any area of the country and is considered a day-neutral onion. Or, I could try Red Candy Apple Onion as it is also day-neutral, and the color is sublime.
What about you? Do you have a favorite onion? Or some onion growing tips? Let us know in the comments!
Cabbage has always been a cold weather, comfort-food vegetable. Besides soup, one of our family’s favorite brisk winter night meals is Golabki (pronounced golumpki), a Polish dish made by my mother-in-law. Cabbage leaves are rolled around a meat and pork mixture, then baked while covered with a thin, sweet tomato sauce. My kids and husband like the meat mixture and I take all of their leftover cabbage- happily.
Because cabbage thrives in cooler weather, you can plant it in both early spring and for winter harvest. Most people have the best success (and best-tasting cabbage) by planting for late fall/early winter harvest. Cabbage is relatively easy to grow from seed and should be started indoors about four weeks before the last expected frost date, if you are planting in the spring for early harvest. For a late crop, sow your seeds in the garden in midsummer, ideally next to beans or corn or a tall crop that can provide some shade. Keep in mind that the closer you plant the cabbage seeds, the smaller the heads will be. Cabbage should be mulched heavily to keep moisture in the soil and regulate soil temperature. One odd note I found when researching cabbage- it’s a picky neighbor, meaning it will grow nicely when planted near beans and cucumbers, but will not tolerate being close to tomatoes, strawberries, cauliflower, or broccoli.
Although picking out the perfect spot for your cabbage seeds may make you feel that cabbage is a bit of a diva – let me assure you that it is a completely worthwhile crop. You can even manage to get two yields out of your cabbage plants by cutting the head out of the plant to harvest, but leaving behind the leaves and roots. The plant will set up new heads, so just pinch off most of them until a few smaller heads remain. And there is a great variety of cabbages available, from traditional tight-leaf versions to loose-leaf versions such as bok choy. If you want to try cabbage, and are hoping for success, check out a few of the varieties Gurney’s has to offer:
Gurney’s Choice Stonehead Hybrid Cabbage produces small heads that are about 4 to 6 pounds in weight. 4 – 6 pounds average. This variety rarely splits and resists pests and diseases, such as black rot. Golden Acre Cabbage is a great option for small gardens, as the heads are compact and don’t need much growing space. It also has a very sweet, mild flavor- not bitter- so a great choice for kids to try. China Star Cabbage is a great loose-leaf variety, perfect for salads and stir fries. Each head averages 3 to 4 pounds, and this variety is slow bolting.
Stonehead Hybrid Cabbage
Have you had any courageous cabbage champions? Or, have you experienced a cabbage catastrophe? Weigh in with your biggest and best stories. What varieties are you planting? What cabbage planting tips do you have?
An obsession with Boston heads of lettuce was sadly diminishing my weekly grocery budget. I first had a taste of the sweet cupped leaves while visiting a family friend in Northern Michigan, and once home I immediately searched for it in stores and ate it, weekly, going through at least three heads and making it my go-to sandwich wrap. One fateful week as my husband shopped with me, I sent him to grab a few heads of my favorite lettuce, which came in a 3 pack. He came back with a head of iceberg and romaine and when I asked where my Boston lettuce was, he shook his head and asked if I ever looked at the price tag- and I realized my obsession was either at an end, or I must find a different source. I bought a packet of seeds and decided to try a late season crop in an area that still sported a few tired cucumbers. I cleared the weeds, hand raked the soil, and did a quick few flicks of my wrist and watered the area. Not only was my lettuce easy to grow, but I had tons of it and was able to eat it every day and for a lot less than I was paying at the grocery store. I also learned a valuable lesson- lettuces, are very easy to grow, almost as easy as tomatoes, and requires very little work.
Ideally, most gardeners can get two lettuce crops per year, one in spring and one in fall due to the cooler temperatures. Head lettuce does not do well as the weather gets hotter, but leaf lettuce does. Head lettuce, such as iceberg and romaine, can be started indoors about 4 weeks before the last frost; at this same time, you can direct-seed leaf lettuce varieties outdoors, perhaps at 2-3 week intervals to stagger your harvest. Transplant your head lettuce outside once the danger of frost is past. As the weather gets warm, you can try planting lettuces that can tolerate heat, such as Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce. Once those are harvested, and gardeners pass the high heat of midsummer, head or romaine types can be planted again especially in shady areas for a fall harvest. Cold tolerant loose-leaf lettuces can be direct sown again, extending your harvest into the latest fall months.
One issue lettuce growers face is bolting. As temperatures rise, lettuce plants begin to elongate and begin to form a bitter tasting sap. The plant then bolts- or grows very tall- and flowers. To prevent this from happening, pinch off the top center part of the plant just before bolting. If you lettuce does go to seed, pull up any plants that go to seed quickly and then save your seeds from the last plants to bolt.
Harvesting your lettuce is best done in the morning to preserve the crispiness that develops in plants overnight. Lettuce is best eaten fresh, but can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks.
A few noteworthy varieties to explore as you plan your spring lettuce plantings are Gurney’s Choice Lettuce Blend, featuring Romaine, Black Seeded Simpson, Red Sails, and Salad Bowl; Buttercrunch Lettuce; and Gurney’s Choice Green Ice Lettuce.
Interested in growing lettuce this year? Check out Gurney’s for all of your lettuce growing leaves- I mean needs.
True story- last December I harvested broccoli, in the snow, for Christmas Eve dinner. It was my second year of broccoli, and I had a lovely, protected area for my vegetable garden, tucked into a corner next to the house. Broccoli loved the sandy soil and took over, seeding itself until I could barely tell which variety was which, and it eventually took over a quarter of the space. We didn’t mind, though, as we love broccoli and eat it at least twice a week- an ounce of broccoli has as much calcium as an ounce of milk. But when I stomped outside in my dress and snow boots, holding a pair of scissors and my colander, I thought it was absolutely crazy that I was harvesting the last of my broccoli in the snow.
I learned was that broccoli is very hardy- it can germinate in temperatures as low as 40°F. If you are direct sowing your broccoli seeds, you can plant your first crop about two weeks before your last spring frost, and then your second crop about 80 days before your first fall frost. Broccoli thrives in full sun and moist, fertile soil with a bit of acidity. Because broccoli loves moisture, mulching is highly recommended; the mulch will also help keep weeds away and keep the soil temperature down. The shallow roots of broccoli mean that, once it’s growing, do not do much cultivating as you can damage the roots. As for harvesting, I was always taught to harvest in the morning, before the soil heats up- my grandma said that made for the best tasting broccoli. I must admit that I usually end up harvesting right before I make dinner, and I don’t notice a difference in the taste. Always harvest broccoli when the buds are firm and tight- before the heads flower. When you harvest the main head, side shoots will continue to form so you can harvest for several weeks from one broccoli plant. Also, store the harvested broccoli in your refrigerator for up to 5 days, or blanch and freeze for up to a year.
Gurney’s carries a lot of broccoli varieties, but one stands out- Gurney’s Choice Coronado Crown Hybrid Broccoli. This particular variety has big, gorgeous, blue-green heads but also sweet stalks- and I normally am not a stalk fan. Because Coronado Choice Crown Hybrid is fairly heat-tolerant, is a great choice for all of our gardeners- North or South.
A new, unique variety Gurney’s is offering is Blue Wind Broccoli. This variety has gorgeous powder-blue foliage and tightly packed heads that continue producing side shoots once harvested. The best part? This variety produces early, ready to harvest in just 49 days from planting, making it a great option for the established gardener who is ready to try something new and have quick, tasty results.
What is your favorite broccoli variety? Or, what is your favorite “I can’t believe I’m harvesting broccoli NOW” story?
It’s no secret that we love beets in our house. And it’s not just the root- we love the whole beet plant, from root to leaf, and because we use so many beets, I’m thankful that we can get two crops a year. We juice beet roots and beet leaves, sauté the beet greens to have with chicken or pork, and roast the beets to add to salads or sprinkle with feta and a little red onion for a side dish. But by far, adding beet juice to smoothies is my favorite way to use up our beets. Packed with antioxidants, beets also have anti-inflammatory properties, making them a great choice for athletes and active adults.
Beets are a cold weather crop, meaning for most of the growing zones, you can plant your first crop in March or early April when your soil temperature reaches 50° F, with a second crop going in around July or early August. Because beets can survive frost and near-freezing temperatures, they are an excellent choice for Northern gardeners, and can be found at most farmer’s markets in the Midwest all the way into December. In zones 9 and above, you can continue to grow beets all winter long.
Beets do need a bit of care and attention, so growing is not as hands-free as beans. Soil needs to be moist, and once the seeds germinate, they must be thinned (pinch off versus pulling, as pulling can disturb nearby seedlings). Once they are thinned I like to get my kids involved and do a light mulching; beets need soil moisture to get big and sweet. From there, though, we leave the beets alone and do very little because beets have such shallow roots and we don’t want to bother them. Most varieties of beets are mature in 50 to 70 days, and I was always taught to harvest before the greens are above 6 inches. I think this ties into the Old Farmer’s Almanac my grandmother used, and has to do with keeping your beets from getting too large and woody. Check the information on the variety you chose, though, as some beets do have naturally longer greens than others. You can store fresh beets in your fridge for up to a week, or can, pickle, or freeze them for later. One tiny little fun beet fact- besides using them for juicing and eating, beets make an amazing natural dye and are a great indicator of soil pH (beets must have a soil pH above 5 or their growth can be affected).
Gurney’s has a great selection of beets- the best by far is our Perfected Detroit Beet. Uniform, gorgeous color, and sweet as candy, these beauties are ready for harvest 58 days from planting in full sun. Perfect for all of your beet needs- juicing, canning, pickling, eating- this variety likes a neutral soil pH (7) and grows to about 3 inches in diameter.
For a bit of a different beet shape, check out the Forono Beet. The long, cylindrical shape makes this a great slicing beet, perfect for salads or sautés. This variety has small, sweet tops and will stay soft and juicy even if you have to delay harvesting. Ready for harvest in 60 days, loves full sun, and especially likes a neutral pH and deep, sandy soil, this variety is a great choice if you are ready to venture away from traditional beets such as Harrier and Detroit.
Interested in more beet varieties? Check out Gurney’s selection of beet seed packets and seed tape and let us know what your favorites are, and any tips you have for growing beets in your region!
Perfected Detroit Beets