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All about…cauliflower

Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower

Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower

There is one thing you must know about cauliflower before we go any further: cauliflower is temperamental.  It only does well in consistently cool weather, is fussy about soil, and needs a near constant supply of water and nutrients. But we never back away from a challenge- so if you love the sweet taste of cauliflower (I love mine sliced thin and roasted in the oven), let’s equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to successfully grow cauliflower.

Sun

Cauliflower needs at least 6 hours of full sun per day, if not more.

Soil

Cauliflower prefers nitrogen and potassium rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter to help retain moisture. The pH must be between 6.5 and 6.8 to prevent clubroot disease.

Food

Apply Gurney’s Vegetable Food before planting, and again after the plants develop new leaves, and again before heads form.

Temperature

Plant fall crops about 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost, but be ready to shade your cauliflower plants if they need to be protected from any surprise heat waves.

Space

Cauliflower should be planted about 18 inches to ensure plenty of room to grow.

Mulch

To avoid stress, plants need even moisture. A layer of organic mulch will keep soil cool and moist and prevent weeds from sprouting.

A Little Help

Cauliflower is supposed to naturally self-blanch, where the leaves naturally curl over the head and shade it, ensuring it will be white and tender at harvest. Keep an eye on your heads and provide a little assistance if needed by pulling leaves up over the head and fastening them with a clothespin.

Interested in growing your own cauliflower? Try Gurney’s Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower or for something completely different, Veronica Hybrid Cauliflower. Any tips for us on cauliflower success? Let us know in the comments.

What is the difference between hybrid, open pollinated and heirloom seed?

tomatos2When browsing through your seed catalogs, you may notice some terminology that can be confusing.  Seed is often categorized as open pollinated (op), heirloom or hybrid.  Understanding these descriptions is especially important if you plan to save your own seed.

Open pollinated (OP)- These varieties can produce seed that is true to type, or that will grow the same plant again.  It’s important to keep in mind that some species can easily cross-pollinate with each other, so their seed will only be true to type if varieties are isolated from each other.

Open Pollinated TomatoesHeirloom- These are open pollinated varieties that have been passed down within communities or families.  Usually these varieties have been around for many years and continue to be treasured for great flavor, and adaptability and vigor.  All heirlooms are open pollinated (OP), but not all open pollinated varieties are considered to be heirlooms.

Hybrid- Seeds created by controlled cross pollinating between two chosen varieties.  These are often referred to as F1 plants.  Seed collected from these plants will not produce the same plant, or they are not true to type.  Hybrids are usually created with specific goals in mind, such as increased disease resistance, more fruit production, better flavor, etc.

Grow popcorn – it’s easy, fun and delicious!

Kids prepping popcorn

My kids are big popcorn fans.

Popcorn has become one of my very favorite crops to grow.  This unassuming crop has many virtues you may not have considered.  I’ve been mulling over the list of reasons to grow popcorn so that I can convince others to give it a try.  I think I have a pretty good argument.

Popcorn is easy!  Plant seed out in the spring once the soil has warmed, it needs little attention again until fall time.  By the time popcorn is ready to harvest; everything else in the garden is slowing down and dying off.  This allows me time to truly appreciate popcorn harvest day.

Popcorn hanging in barn

We’ve found a foolproof way to keep mice out of our stored popcorn!

Unlike many popular garden favorites that can be overwhelming, popcorn can be picked all at once.  That one harvest can yield enough popcorn for the family to enjoy for months or even years, no canning, processing or cooking necessary!

Popcorn is flexible!  Simply let the ears dry down on the stalks, popcorn holds ups nicely on the plants until you find time to collect it.  I always wait for one of those warm, sunny days in September when I’m looking for a reason to be out in the garden (thanks for the excuse, popcorn).  Once harvested, the drying process continues.  I’ve had success putting it into well ventilated bags or boxes and storing in the basement for about 2 months.  Mice can be a problem, this year we are hanging bags from rafters in the barn, so far they have not found a way in.  I shuck mine in late November to early December, it’s a nice chore to have when the days are cold and dark.  Popcorn can be stored in an airtight container for years once it is shucked.

Cut popcorn stalks make great fall decor.

Cut popcorn stalks make great fall decor.

Everyone loves popcorn!  One of my son’s first words was “bop-bop” (popcorn).  He used to dance around the kitchen in his footie pajamas and sing “bop-bop, bop-bop, bop-bop” while the popcorn was pinging in the pan.  I share much anticipated jars of home grown popcorn for Christmas gifts and bring it to parties for the host.  The dog eagerly cleans up the floor of any stray pieces and the chickens go crazy for both un-popped kernels and leftover popcorn.

It’s beautiful!  Popcorn harvest conveniently coincides with fall decorating season.  After harvesting, I cut back the stalks, bundle them up and decorate around the outside of the house.  Instead of growing decorative corn, I tie together a few cobs of corn and decorate with it while it’s drying down.  This year I grew our Gurney’s Mauveless, it is truly gorgeous as a decorative piece and tastes amazing.

All about potatoes

French Fingerling Potatoes

French Fingerling Potatoes

Growing up in the Midwest, I learned early on the value of the potato. No holiday was complete without several side dishes featuring potatoes. I remember when redskin potatoes first became readily available, then Yukon golds (how did we ever make mashed potatoes before yukons?). And just a few years ago I was delighted to find an array of small fingerling potatoes at my favorite market, so I could make a red, white, and blue potato salad (the blue was really purple). Two summers ago I decided to try my hand at growing potatoes because the little seed potatoes at the market looked so cute, and my grandma insisted they were easy to grow. And she was right- my kids loved harvesting the potatoes, and the novelty of walking outside and digging up some potatoes for dinner never wore off.

Planting and Harvesting

Potatoes prefer well drained, fine sandy soil, with a lot of organic matter mixed in. If your soil is less than potato ready, consider planting a cover crop the year before. Crop rotation is key with potatoes- yes, even in your own garden. To avoid issues such as scab disease, do not add too much manure to your seedbed, and also watch the soil pH: for potatoes, the pH should be 5.0 to 5.5. Once your plants are started, remember potatoes need constant moisture, so water regularly. Once your plants are about 6 inches tall, you need to hoe the dirt around the base of the plant in order to keep the root covered and support the plant. This helps keep the potato from getting sunburned- which makes them turn green and taste bitter. Hilling should happen every two weeks for proper potato protection. Two weeks after the vines have naturally died down, it’s time to dig up your potatoes. If your weather is still hot, immediately take harvested potatoes to a dark, cool place- any exposure to sun can cause your potatoes to turn green and they may rot. Potatoes can be stored for about 4 to 6 weeks; if you need to store them longer than that, they must be cured in a dark place (temperature between 60 and 65 degrees and a humidity of 85 percent or higher for 10 days); after they are cured they can be kept in a very cool (40 to 45 degrees) dark humid place for several months.

Interested in trying your hand at potato propagation? Gurney’s has a wide variety of potatoes for you to choose from. Have a favorite potato variety? Let us know in the comments!

A few interesting varieties to try:

Purple Viking Potatoes: purple skin, white flesh, super delicious.

German Butterball Potatoes: great for everything- baking, frying, mashing.

Gurney’s Choice Red Pontiac Potatoes: best for mashing.

What to do with all those apples

There’s no substitute for the amazing taste of fresh, homegrown applesfile5311296372234 – so, of course, I always start craving them right when the growing season’s over. What do you do when it’s freezing outside and those insatiable taste buds demand a serving of apples? Reach for a jar of applesauce or butter! Just a little bit of work and planning ahead, and you’ll be able to enjoy your apple harvest well into the winter.

Canning is one of the simplest, most popular ways of preserving large quantities for long periods. If you like applesauce, you can prepare jars full at home in a matter of minutes, help yourself to as many servings as your tummy permits and preserve the rest to be savored for months afterward.

Here’s how you go about making the applesauce:

  • Step one, wash the apples thoroughly in clean water.
  • Next, slice each apple into four.
  • Pick the largest kettle you can find (a smaller one will do if you aren’t using a lot of apples) and fill it with half a cup of water. This will prevent any risk of burning the apples.
  • Place the kettle on the stove, fill in with the quartered apples and set the burner on high heat.
  • Allow the apples to cook until they are mushy to touch. This will take some 20-30 minutes.
  • Time to puree! Blend the cooked apples with an immersion type blender or simply mash them with a potato masher or a fork if you prefer your applesauce chunky.
  • Add sugar/cinnamon/salt, allow it to cool.
  • Serve alone or with waffles, pancakes, roasted potatoes or ice-cream.

Want to can your applesauce? Just a few more steps:

  • Reheat the sauce to a boil, and stir often to prevent sticking.
  • Fill jars with hot applesauce, leaving about a half inch at the top.
  • Place your lids – use our Canning Tool Set for best results.

What’s your favorite way to use your apple harvest? Tell us in the comments!

How to dry gourds for decoration

Large and Small Gourd Mix

Large and Small Gourd Mix

Decorative gourds – nearly as popular as the ubiquitous Pumpkin Spice Latte this fall! Want to keep your gourds looking fresh right through autumn? You may want to try drying them to keep them from getting “icky” around Halloween.  Here’s how you can dry small pumpkins and gourds to use them in fall decoration:

Cleaning and curing
Rinse the fruit with clean water to remove all dirt and debris. Then disinfect the rinds by rubbing with a cloth dabbed in full-strength distilled vinegar or bleach solution. Next, use a clean cloth to dry them.

Select the right spot for drying
The ideal location for drying gourds should be well ventilated, cool and dark. If the air circulation is poor, you can leave a fan running in the room (if there are any windows, leave them open.) You can place the pumpkins and gourds on drying racks or even separate them using chicken wire  to allow for air circulation under the fruits. Make sure to position them so none of the gourds are touching each other.

Check the gourds regularly
Rot or infections can spread from one fruit to another in little time, so inspect the fruits regularly. Early mold growth can be safely removed with a butter knife without damaging the fruit. Just scrape off the growth, disinfect with vinegar, wipe dry and return the fruit to storage. Discard of all rotted fruits. Different varieties can take different time periods to dry completely. You can shake the gourds to check if they’ve dried up- you’ll be able to hear the seeds rattle if you shake a dry gourd.

Decoration ideas
Dried gourds will last through fall, so incorporate them into your Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations! A few colorful pumpkins and gourds stacked up on a large plate or bowl is one of the simplest centerpieces you’ll find. Acryllic paint, or even most spray paints, work well on dried rinds and are great for drawing faces or patterns. Bird lovers can carve dried pumpkins and gourds to create bird feeders to hang out the windows. Garlands adorned with pumpkins and gourds are a wonderful way of imbuing your place with a festive feel. It’s simple- tie a cluster of small sized fruits and leaves on a long twine and hang the garland along the wall or window.

Fall food storage

storing onionsOne of the most obvious perks of growing your own food is the ability to bring the high-flavor, quality fruits and vegetables to every meal. But how do you savor this privilege when the days shorten and snow takes hold of the ground? It’s quite simple, by storing the produce. Potatoes, apples, carrots, squash and many other vegetables and fruits can be stored for 2 months (really!) to keep your taste buds happy and your body well-nourished until the next growing season.

Essentials of storing crops successfully

When it comes to storage, not all crops fare the same- there are varieties that’ll store better than others. Make sure to select these ‘good keepers’ when you’re picking crops for planting. You should time the planting in a way that your crops mature towards the end of season. Remember, crops harvested at their prime typically store better than the rest.

Apples

The first full-sized apple to fall off the tree usually indicates it’s time to harvest. You can harvest apples early if birds are a problem, or wait until just before the first frost. It’s always best to use a ladder when picking apples. Handle the fruits carefully to prevent bruising or bumping. Fruits with cuts and blemishes don’t store well, so feel free to bite into them, make apple sauce or use them in jams and desserts. Our Apple Parer/Corer/Peeler and Food Strainer and Sauce Maker will save both time and effort while getting the job done in perfect fashion. Place those perfect apples in trays or boxes lined with shredded newspaper and store them away in a cool, dark place.

Potatoes

Potato foliage will die back by the end of summer, signaling the time to dig out and cure them for storage. Lay out the tubers on clean newspaper sheets in a dark, well-ventilated place (with temperatures between 50-60 degrees F.) This will cause the skins to toughen up in within a couple of weeks. After a week or two, clean the tubers using dry cloth, removing dirt and pitching any damaged tubers. Place the spuds in ventilated baskets or boxes and cover them with newspaper or clean sheets to prevent the spread of rot. The ideal temperature for storing potatoes is 40-50 degrees F, and they should be kept in the dark.

Onions

Onions, just like potatoes, need to be cured before storage. And just like potatoes, their foliage will signal the right time to act- the leaves will flop back, which also tells you that they’ve stopped growing. Let the onions sit in the soil until the foliage has turned yellow and the necks have tightened. You can allow the harvested onions to sit on the soil for a couple of weeks. If, however, there’s a chance of rain of frost, promptly move them to a dry location and spread them out on the floor. Allow 2 weeks for curing. Once the skins have tightened and there’s no residual moisture on the leaves or stems, place them in mesh bags or baskets and store away in a cool, dark location. Temperatures between 45-50 degrees F are best for storing onions.

 

 

 

 

 

Brussels sprouts can be delicious – really!

Despite the bad rap they get from the elementary-aged set, Brussels sprouts  offer a great variety of uses! Few vegetables are quite as versatile or fun to cook. Brussels sprouts belong to the cabbage family and are a wonderful source of Vitamins A and C, iron, folate, potassium and dietary fiber. Plus, they have some amazing health benefits…

Health benefits of Brussels sprouts

  • Brussels sprouts contain a phytochemical called Sulforaphane that is believed to have amazing anticancer properties.
  • Brussels sprouts are a good source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical that’s believed to aid DNA repair in cells and block the growth of cancerous cells.
  • As indicated by their chemical composition, regular consumption of Brussels sprouts can lower cholesterol levels, as also the risk of cancer and health disorders.

Tips for successfully growing Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are a long-bearing crop that should ideally be planted early in spring or mid-to-late summer. They are known to perform best in sites recipient to 6 hours of sunlight on a daily basis. Fertile soil with high pH (about 6.8) and plenty of organic matter is ideal for planting Brussels sprouts. Set your plants 18-24 inches apart in rows or bed, allowing about 30 inches between adjacent rows. Water regularly, ensuring your plants get about 1 to 1 ½ inch water every week.

Cooking Brussels sprouts

When it comes to cooking, there’s no counting the number of ways they can be used in the kitchen! Brussels sprouts taste great roasted, sautéed, grilled, stir fried. One of my favorite Brussels sprouts recipes, roasted Brussels sprouts and apples, is a delightful preparation good for any occasion. Simply combine half a cup of diced apples and Brussels sprouts (8 ounces, trimmed and quartered) in a baking dish. Add salt, apple cider, minced fresh thyme, fresh ground black pepper and olive oil. Toss and bake for 25 minutes at 375°. Brussels sprouts with toasted breadcrumbs, lemon and Parmesan is another recipe you must give a go to. Prepare breadcrumbs by breaking or cutting bread into pieces and then processing in the food processor till you’ve obtained the desired texture. Toast them to a golden brown. Remove the sprouts’ stems and slice them each in half, lengthwise. Now arrange them on a large baking sheet, the cut side facing down and roast them in olive oil. When the sprouts start to turn brown, add breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and Parmesan and mix well. Finally, add lemon zest and continue roasting till the Brussels sprouts are dark, caramelized on the edges. Serve hot and savor the surreal taste!

Royal Marvel Hybrid Brussels Sprouts

Royal Marvel Hybrid Brussels Sprouts

 

Extending the growing season

Season extension is the way forth for gardeners who seek to do more, and get more out of their garden. So even when it’s gotten cold and the neighbor’s called it a season, you can choose to challenge the elements and cultivate your favorite plants beyond their usual growing period. Gurney’s offers some of the most essential season extenders.

Greenhouses

Rain, frost, snow and wind are the obvious, most potent threats your plants face during the cold season. A fully heated greenhouse equipped with artificial lights is one of the most effective ways of countering inclement weather conditions and growing round the year.

Garden Row Covers

Row covers offer an easy, effective way of protecting your plants from frost as well as insect pests. These are usually made from permeable polypropylene material that lets in air, sunlight and water to help keep the plants growing even under adverse conditions. Our Floating Row Cover is a regular-weight cover that’s adequate for light frost protection, doubles as a surprisingly efficient insect control, and has been found to improve seed sprouting as well!

Row Tunnels

Row tunnels or “quick hoops” usually comprise an arc shaped frame covered with plastic sheet to create a greenhouse- like environment that boosts plant growth while at the same time, protecting them from the cold. Our Polythene Grow Tunnel is a fully-assembled grow tunnel with galvanized steel wire hoops- ideal for both short and long plant rows!

Mulches

Mulching is a time tested way of keeping the plants warm by preventing heat loss. Organic mulches  make for the simplest mode of retaining ground heat. If you’re growing on a large-scale, you might want to opt for commercially available synthetic mulches.

A little planning and the right season extending techniques are all you need to keep up your spirits and growing activities weeks into this cold season.

Row Covers

Polythene Grow Covers

 

What to do with those late-season tomatoes

Ripe and Unripe TomatoesWith fall just around the corner and plenty of fresh tomatoes on hand, it’s time, yet again, to look for answers to that old question- What do you do with your precious tomatoes? The great thing about tomatoes is, there’s plenty of choice, even with immature tomatoes that aren’t likely to ripen in time. You can use those fresh green tomatoes to fix a multitude of mouthwatering recipes, ripen them indoors and, of course, preserve them by canning, freezing or as jam and paste.

Green tomato recipes

Ever heard of green tomato pie? It’s an old-fashioned recipe that never fails to delight (we love this version from Taste of Home). It’s pretty easy to fix – simply mix flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, add tomatoes and vinegar and toss to coat. Lay out the bottom crust on a pie plate, add the filling and dot with butter before rolling the rest of the pastry into a lattice crust. Seal and trim the edges and bake until tomatoes are tender. Really sumptuous! Fried green tomatoes, green tomato caprese and green tomato salsa are some other easy-to-fix green tomato recipes you must try and sink your teeth into this fall!

Ripening green tomatoes indoors

Timing is the single most important factor when it comes to ripening tomatoes indoors. Keep an eye on the weather so you’ve already harvested all green tomatoes before the first freeze. Wipe them with a towel so they’re all dry and spread them out on an indoor shelf or table, layering newspaper underneath the tomatoes – if one tomato rots, an absorbent layer will keep the rot from spreading to others. Check a few times a week to remove any rotten tomatoes!

Preserving tomatoes

Freezing is a simple, hassle free way of preserving tomatoes. You can freeze raw tomatoes both with and without the skin and additionally choose to freeze them whole, sliced or pureed. Select only firm, ripe tomatoes and wash them each separately before drying them with paper towels. Cut off the stem scar and surrounding portion and discard it before proceeding to slicing or chopping the tomatoes (should you choose not to freeze the whole fruit). If you intend to freeze whole tomatoes with peels, cut off the stem scar and place the fruits on cookie sheets to freeze. Once they’re frozen, seal away into freezer bags or containers. If you’re interested in freezing peeled tomatoes, soak the washed tomatoes in boiling water for a minute, peel off the skin and then proceed the same way as with unpeeled tomatoes.

Canning is another easy way of preserving tomatoes. Find a sharp knife and cut a small “x” in the bottom of each fruit. Let the tomatoes sit for a minute in boiling water and then quickly remove them to a large bowl of ice cold water or a large baking sheet. Once the tomatoes are cold enough to handle, use the knife to remove the skins. The cans or jars (as also their lids) should be boiled in water for at least 10 minutes in order to sterilize them. Add 2 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice in each can before filling in the tomatoes. Make sure to leave at least ½ inch of headspace at the top of each can. Set them all in the canning rack. Next, move the rack into boiling water in a large pot or kettle. Remove the cans after 45 minutes, allow them to dry and cool down and store away in a dark, cold place.

A bit of time, a little effort and you can eliminate wastage to savor the delicious fruits of your tomato plants right through the year!