In an ideal world, we would have big beautiful green lawns and lush, full blooming gardens with bountiful harvests of fruits and vegetables- and it would be as easy as sticking a plant or seed in the ground. But the reality is, it’s not easy, and it starts with our soil.
We all know that plants get most of their nutrients from the soil- but most of our soils are not perfect, or have been overworked, or lack all of the nutrients needed. Adding fertilizer – whether organic or manufactured- is a way to add nutrients to the soil and thus provide the fuel your plants need to grow strong roots and produce healthy blooms or fruit. According to fertilizer.org, a website managed by the International Fertilizer Industry Association, the purpose of fertilizer use is twofold: one, to supplement the natural soil nutrient supply and build up soil fertility in order to satisfy the demand of crops with a high yield potential; and two, to compensate for nutrients exported by the harvested products or lost by unavoidable leakages to the environment in order to maintain good soil conditions for cropping.
Many of us, at the start of the season, mix compost in with our soil. Compost feeds the soil, while fertilizer feeds the plants. So simply adding compost isn’t the same as adding fertilizer, and using both compost and fertilizer together can help you grow the best garden possible. And even if you start with the best possible soil, as your plants grow an absorb nutrients from the soil, the soil becomes less fertile. Plants require six main nutrients: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. The first three they get from air and water, and the last three they must get from either soil or fertilizer. Nitrogen is essential to help plants make the proteins necessary in new tissue production. Phosphorous helps plants transfer energy from one area to another, which helps stimulate root growth, set buds and flowers, and increase seed size. And Potassium is needed by plants to make carbohydrates, and affects the overall vigor and health of the plant. In much smaller amounts, plants need calcium, magnesium, and sulfur from the soil.
Choosing a fertilizer needn’t be tough. Most all-purpose fertilizers are 5-5-5, which indicates the proportion of each macronutrient (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). There are organic and synthetic fertilizers on the market, with organic fertilizers usually being slow release and better for fall application, and synthetic being mainly water soluble and fast acting.
Gurney’s Sweet Corn Food
Gurney’s has a wide range of fertilizers, from T-I-M-E-D (which releases nutrients over two years) to plant specific fertilizers such as Gurney’s Blueberry Food, Tomato Food, Sweet Corn Food and Fruit Tree Food. Almost as important as the fertilizer is regularly testing your soil pH, as a pH that is too high or too low can cause plants not to absorb readily available nutrients. A soil sample can be sent to a lab, or use a tool such as Gurney’s 4 Way Soil Analyzer to determine soil pH, then work to slowly raise or lower your soil pH over several years, and consider applying compost which helps moderate soil pH and maintain the ideal pH of 6.5.
Did you know that peas were first introduced to France by Catherine de Medici? Or that the United Kingdom has actual pea etiquette- and that the proper way to eat peas is by mashing them with the back of your fork (not scooping them with a fork or spoon like most of us do).
Miragreen Shell Peas
Normally this is the space where I relay a very cute story about my experience with peas and the fact is- I’ve got none. I certainly adore growing sweat pea vines but I’ve never really grown peas for food- even snow peas. And when I was researching peas for this post, I found myself regretting- time and again- that I hadn’t tried growing peas, as they seem very easy and extremely beneficial to the garden.
Peas- all varieties- are nitrogen fixing plants. This means that, with the help of bacteria in the soil, pea plants take nitrogen from the air and convert it into more easily-used forms—which increases the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Peas also have shallow root systems, which means they can help prevent erosion. Peas are cool weather crops, and are split into three groups: shell peas (don’t eat the pods, full-sized peas), snow peas (edible flat pod with small peas), and snap peas (edible pod with full-sized peas). To grow peas, sow seeds outdoors about 4-6 weeks prior to your last spring frost, or when soil temperature is 45°F. If you get some late snow, don’t worry- a blanket of snow will not hurt young pea plants, but several days of very low temperatures can hurt plants—so be ready to plant again if a late winter arctic blast comes your way. Peas like well-drained, humus rich soil, and are not fans of too much fertilizer. Peas need just the right amount of water, which can be tricky; they don’t like to be waterlogged but the soil should not dry out when the pea plants are blooming or when pods are swelling. One rule to follow: water ½” per week until the peas start to bloom, then water 1″ per week until pods fill out. Avoid hoeing around pea plants as the roots are shallow and fragile. For the taller and vining varieties, a trellis or support, such as a Pea Fence is advisable. One tip- plant peas with radishes, spinach, lettuce, and other early greens to make use of garden space, and avoid planting peas near onions or garlic, as the peas will not do well.
Sugar Ann Snap Pea
Check out Gurney’s for all of your pea gardening needs- especially these varieties:
Miragreen Shell Peas: a Gurney’s Choice, Miragreen is a proven producer and ready to harvest in 68 days. Heat tolerant, so you can grow several times in a season.
Avalanche Snow Peas: Another Gurney’s Choice, Avalanche produces six inch long pods that are resistant to both fusarium wilt and powdery mildew. Ready to harvest in 59 days.
Sugar Ann Snap Peas: This Gurney’s Choice features stringless super sweet pods that are ready for harvesting- and snacking- in 56 days. No need for staking or supports as this is a dwarf variety.
Anyone who’s started a new garden knows that weeds can be tough to conquer in the first two years. Come July, when the weather is hot, the humidity is high, and your patience is low- the weeds are taking over and you’ll wonder whether you’ll be sweating (and maybe swearing) away your Saturday afternoons pulling weeds. Here are a few tips to hopefully get you started in the right direction and make weeding less of a chore.
Even if a few weeds get into your garden, you can keep them from taking over!
Weed while the soil is wet
The best time to pull weeds- if we are talking about a few weeds, maybe half an hour of work- is when your garden is damp. My favorite time is morning, after our sprinklers have gone off. I like to put on my rain boots, grab my garden gloves and a small bag, and tromp around one of the gardens. I stop when I’m tired, or when I have to be somewhere- but every little bit helps when it comes to weeding. Weeding when your ground is hot and hard is a lot more difficult, and weeding little by little, starting in spring when weeds aren’t a big problem- can actually help keep your weeds from becoming a big problem midsummer.
A good layer of mulch create a nice barrier for weeds.
After your plants are up, or transplanted, but down a good layer of mulch, about 2 to 4 inches. Choose your mulch based on what factors are important to you. We were lucky and had a county parks and recreation service that gave away mulch for free. Some people choose mulch based on appearance and their landscape, others based on what is readily available in their area. You can also opt for a weed barrier under their mulch, such as a landscape barrier. Just keep in mind you should be mulching a weed-free area. Simply covering your weeds with mulch only makes them disappear until they grow through your mulch. There are also products you can put down under the mulch that prevents seeds- especially weed seeds- from germinating.
Weeds out of control? Don’t worry, that happens. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve blinked and suddenly it’s mid-July and I can barely see my tomatoes through the forest of
IronX Weed Control offers effective, and selective, weed reduction.
weeds. In those cases, you may want to turn to some sort of application to treat the weeds. One option Gurney’s offers is Weed Aside Weed Killer. This product is good for two reasons: 1, it is made up of naturally occurring fatty acids and 1, it will only kill what it comes in contact with so if it accidentally gets on the leaf of a prized pumpkin, it won’t kill the entire plant. Gurney’s also offers IronX selective weed killer for large areas, like lawns. Safe for pets and people once the spray dries, this helps combat dandelions and other common lawn pests. Herbicidal soaps and other lawn and garden treatments are again up to you, the gardener, and what you prefer to use in and around your home.
Water your plants, not your weeds
If you do suffer a mid-summer dry spell, consider adding drip irrigation. If you don’t water your weeds, and only water your plants, the weeds won’t grow. I wish I had tried this instead of heavily watering my plants- and weeds- with our sprinkler system. But it’s a very easy solution, and one that can save you time and money.
Off with their heads!
If you have too many weeds and not enough time, at least get out and cut the flower heads off before they go to seed and spread more weeds. Ideally the weeds won’t get to flower but the reality is, I certainly never have enough time come mid-summer to really keep up with the weeds and a few do flower. Cutting off the flowers quickly will prevent seed dispersal, germination, and adding to the weed population in your garden.
Watch for hitchhikers and space invaders
When you bring in new plants, check the soil for weeds that might be growing, even small ones, in the pot and don’t transplant the weeds. It seems simple enough, but I know how rushed I can be when transplanting, and I don’t always check. Also when planting, pay attention to spacing. Having mature plants growing close together means that there isn’t as much room for weeds to germinate and grow. Watch planting guidelines and plan to leave as little space as possible between mature plants, therefore giving the weeds less room to grow.
Have more weeding tips? Please share in the comments- goodness knows we all can use as many tips as possible in the constant battle against garden weeds! Or, have you simply given up and gone native? My grandma was one to always remind me that weeds are really flowers too!
Chipman’s Canada Red Rhubarb
When I was in my late twenties we moved to a ranch-style house outside of a small town in central Ohio. My husband, in an effort to keep track of our two dogs, immediately paid to have the yard fenced in. I had lobbied for this house because it had fruit trees- peach, two apple, and a pear. I also saw a grapevine and, as I love preserves, I was ready to unpack my mason jars and fire up the boiler. I was delighted when a row of gorgeous old fashioned peonies popped up in the spring, and as I was investigating I found a dirt row that ran near the grapevine and started planning what vegetables I would try to grow there. I decided I likely had to pull the few weeds that were sprouting up- including what appeared to be a monster weed anchoring one end. As I approached with my sleeves rolled up, gloves on, clutching my favorite shovel with a heavily toothed edge, my neighbor was hanging her clothes out on the line and yelled “Don’t you touch that rhubarb!”
I had almost hacked apart and unceremoniously dug up and tossed out the easiest perennial vegetable to grow! With very little care, rhubarb performs year after year. Rhubarb likes a sunny spot, cool climates, and well-drained soil. Crowns should ideally be planted 1 to 2 inches below the soil surface in a hole that is 3 feet wide and about 1.5 feet deep. Mulch in spring and fall with grass clippings, and make sure to trim off any seedstalks that form. Seems really easy- and it is.
The only way I ate rhubarb growing up was in strawberry-rhubarb pie. This tart and tangy plant can also be used as a savory seasoning in sauces for meat and fish, and most of us have had some type of rhubarb preserves. Interested in planting rhubarb? Gurney’s does offer old-fashioned Victoria. It’s an heirloom variety and deer resistant, and doesn’t get stringy when you cook with it. Of the newer varieties, I’m most interested in Chipman’s Canada Red Rhubarb which also happens to be a Gurney’s Choice. The intense red color and flavor doesn’t fade, and that would be a plus when making preserves and pies. Have some rhubarb growing tips to share, or a recipe? Let us know in the comments!
Murasaki Sweet Potatoes
Packed with calcium, potassium, and vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are- nutritionally speaking- a powerhouse. It’s no wonder that, for many Native Americans prior to European colonization, sweet potatoes were a main source of nourishment, and were eaten by soldiers as a main food source during the Revolutionary War. Their sweetness, which increases once they are picked and stored, is beyond compare. But sweet potatoes are not just for eating- they have lovely foliage and flowers and lend themselves well even to container gardening.
Sweet potatoes are best grown from slips- small plants that can either be propagated by you from actual sweet potatoes, or purchased from a supplier. To give your crop the optimum growing environment, build long, wide, 10-inch high mounds or ridges spaced 3-4 feet apart, and work in plenty of compost. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers and food should be avoided as those will produce lush greenery, but not large tubers. Plant your slips 12 to 18 inches apart, and cover so that only about ½ inch of the stem is above the soil. 3-4 weeks after transplanting, side-dress the potatoes with fertilizer (one that is low in Nitrogen, such as a 5-10-10 blend). Beds should be tended and hoed to keep weeds down, and reshape beds with soil or mulch. A key thing to remember is water water water- especially deep watering during hot, dry periods. Let the foliage grow and grow without trimming, and once the leaves turn yellow, it’s time to harvest. Once you carefully dig up your tubers, allow them to dry in the sun for several hours, then cure them (this allows a second skin to form) in a spot with high humidity and keep them warm (85° to 90°) for 10 to 15 days; then move them to a cool spot and they should keep for several months. Spoilage usually occurs if any nicks occur in the skin during harvest.
O’ Henry Sweet Potatoes
Charmed by the idea of growing your own sweet potatoes and showing off your hard work in a delicious homemade sweet potato pie? Gurney’s has several varieties you can try.
Gurney’s Choice O’Henry Sweet Potatoes : Cream colored tubers with golden flesh that is stringless, and tastes of nuts and honey. Matures in 100 days and has high yields.
Sweet Potato Bush Porto Rico: Perfect for gardeners with compact space, this bush-type plant produces small runners. Potatoes are great for baking and have gorgeous orange flesh.
Murasaki Sweet Potatoes : For something a little different, try this purple-skinned beauty. White flesh is excellent for baking, boiling, or mashing.
Today, we’re sharing a post from one of our guest bloggers – one of our gardening experts here at Gurney’s!
If I can keep the squirrels and raccoons from getting it first, I will be harvesting delicious sweet corn in late July/early August. Everyone that I know, loves Gotta Have It (including my grandchildren who only want to eat sweet corn if it is “Grandpa’s sweet corn”).
Gotta Have It Hybrid Sweet Corn
I’ve tried many other varieties and I still think that Gotta’ Have It is the best that I’ve ever eaten. Not only does it taste good, but it is also “well behaved”, with tassels not exceeding much over 6′ in height. The husks are tightly wrapped around ears right to the tip, making it earworm resistant. It may still get a few, but when compared to other varieties planted right next to it, it will have much less damage. Two ears per stalk are common and if each stalk is given 3′ of space in each direction, most stalks will have three useable ears! It is equally good fresh or frozen. I’m still enjoying last year’s frozen Gotta’ Have It, trying not to eat too much so that I don’t run out before August!
Scallop Hybrid Mix Summer Squash
Most people grow summer squash, such as zucchini, for the vegetables. But I grow squash for the blossoms. Squash blossoms are delightful, with a taste that is both herbal and floral. I’ve eaten them alone, and dipped in hummus. I’ve seen them on menus- one even offered a fried version- but I like them plain and they are one of my favorite edible flowers. Of course, it’s silly to just plant a vegetable and eat the flowers, which means I also have become a fan of cooking with summer squash, especially pattypan squash which is both delicious and cute. I thought planting pattypan squash would get my kids to eat squash, mainly due to the cuteness factor, but no such luck- they still prefer to eat zucchini in my zucchini bread muffins (which are just fancy vegetable versions of cake).
Summer squash are relatively easy to grow but do require a fair amount of space in the garden, as they are vining plants. They are prolific producers and you will harvest squash from early summer to first frost. One variety- yellow crookneck squash- can even be grown in containers, as it is more of a bush-variety. Before planting, work compost into the area, about two heaping spadefuls at each site. Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) seeds should be planted 8 inches apart, or if you are transplanting seedlings, plant them 3 feet apart. In anywhere from 50 to 70 days, you should be ready to harvest- and have a variety of shape and colors to slice up and serve along cold dips or sautee to serve alongside grilled chicken all summer long!
Jackpot Hybrid Zucchini Summer Squash
Jackpot Hybrid is ready in 42 days! Not only that, it grows on space-saving vines (only 30 inches!) and is spineless. Pick young for best texture and taste.
Black Magic is ready in 50 days and produces all summer long. Semi-spineless vines yield huge crops.
Scallop Hybrid Mix is an excellent choice for a variety of baby scallop squash! Moonbeam White, Sunbeam, and Total Eclipse are included in this seed mix that is ready for harvest in 42-49 days.
Gentry Hybrid Summer Squash
Gentry Hybrid yields semi-crookneck fruits- even in the toughest summer conditions- in 44 days.
Early Prolific Straightneck is a long-time favorite for eating, with creamy flesh and a delicate taste. Ready in 42 days.
There are quite a few newish interesting hybrids, so check gurneys.com for a lot more options. A few that caught my eye:
Partenon Variety sets fruit even without pollination, and does well in containers, making it perfect for screened in porches and lanais.
Eclipse Variety is very versatile- pick it young to use on kebabs, or pick it mature and stuff it or grill it!
Gotta Have It Hybrid Sweet Corn
Being a Midwest girl, I like to think I’m a bit of a corn expert. I grew up saying things like “Knee High by Fourth of July”; I’m also a bit of a cyclist, so riding through miles and miles of corn along rural roads on a breezy day- there is no sound quite like it. But the idea of growing corn myself? It’s a bit daunting. Unlike tomatoes, which I can stick in a container on my patio and have a lot of success with, corn needs a bit more- of everything.
First of all, corn needs space. Corn is a heavy feeder with shallow, spreading roots, so it needs a lot of space and preferably soil that has had a nitrogen-releasing plant in it the year before, such as beans or clover. You can use a nitrogen-based food, like Gurney’s Sweet Corn Food to make sure your crop gets the amount of nitrogen it needs. Corn is also wind pollinated, so I can’t just go out and plant one long row of corn; I need to plant at least three rows, and try and plant them in a square or rectangular shape- otherwise it’s time to start hand-pollinating.
Next, corn has a short harvest season. A few ears appear on your plant, ripen, and done. That’s it. No weeks and weeks of corn, like you would have weeks and weeks of tomatoes. One way to avoid this is to plant a variety every 2 weeks for 6 weeks, or plant an early variety, mid season, and late harvest variety all at the same time. If you plant different varieties, be sure to keep them 400 or more yards apart to avoid cross-pollination.
Mauveless Hybrid Popcorn
Corn needs sun and water- about one inch of water per week. But avoid spraying your corn with water from above as you can wash away the pollen. Instead, use drip irrigation or water along the roots. Especially keep an eye on watering during pollination, because if there is too little water, you can end up with corn that is stressed and produces a lot of empty kernels.
Because of the shallow roots, corn has a hard time competing with weeds, so invest some time early on into keep your corn rows weed-free. Be careful not to disturb the roots as you remove your weeds. After the first month or so you can apply mulch to prevent weeds from sprouting.
Space, nitrogen, spread out planting over several weeks, provide sun and water, and get rid of weeds. Remember to read your seed packets carefully so you know what to expect, and hopefully you will have delicious sweet corn to share with your family in late summer. Interested in learning more? Check out the varieties that Gurney’s has to offer! Gotta Have It Sweet Corn is a long-time favorite and bestseller – it has the best flavor among any of the sweet corn I’ve tested. And don’t just focus on sweet corn- ornamental corn and popcorn (like Gurney’s Mauveless Hybrid Popcorn) are fun to grow, dry on the stalk, and are a great way to get kids and grandkids involved in gardening. If you have any tips for growing sweet corn, let us know in the comments!
Gurney’s Li’l Sweet Hybrid Cantaloupe
Confession time: I used to be a melon drop-out. Each year I would happily place a few melon plants in my garden, dreamily reading the tag from the nursery, excitedly thinking of how adorable my kids would look as they checked on the progress of our melons. And the pride I would have in serving my own home-grown melons! We slowly watched our melon plants through June, encouraging them, waiting for them to really grow; then in July as the sun beat down and the heat crept up, I’d watch my melon plant wither and then die. What was I doing wrong? I felt like it should have been simple- stick the plant in the ground, watch it grow, harvest melons.
Melons need a few key elements to grow successfully- and this includes both muskmelons and watermelons.
Sugar Baby Watermelon
Watermelon vines sprawl- some up to 100 feet, and only producing a few fruits. Muskmelons can produce well in more compact spaces, or you can look for bush varieties. My mistake was not giving my melons enough space to grow, and then trying to adjust and push the vines into the area where I did want the melons to grow. Melon vines are very delicate and must be moved gently.
Melons need 3 to 4 months of warm weather. You can help speed things along by laying down black plastic or plastic mulch a few weeks before planting. Also make sure to plant your melons in a very sunny spot.
Sugar Cube Hybrid Melon
This one should go without saying, but I certainly failed at giving my melons adequate water. Instead, starting with planting, melon vines should get generous amounts of water.
I was working with poor, sandy soil. I should have worked some compost in at the start to give my melon plants a boost; then once fruits appeared, applied some compost.
Weeds take water away from your main plant, and since melons need quite a bit of water, they need to be kept weed free. Apply a layer of mulch around melon hills. Also, there are quite a few pests that prey on melons. Plant marigolds as a companion plant to keep nematodes away, and check your plants regularly for any signs of pests or mildew
I did have a successful year- once I actually learned how to grow melons. We grew Sugar Baby watermelons, which were perfect for my small space and the kids did enjoy watching the progress. We made melon lemonade, melon sorbet, and froze cubed melon for use in smoothies in the winter time. Interested in trying to grow melons this season? Check out Gurney’s for varieties like Sugar Baby Watermelon and Gurney’s Lil Sweet Hybrid Cantaloupe.
German Giant Parat Radishes
Ravishing pink and red globes are sliced open to reveal a gorgeous, crisp white inside, with a spice and bite that follow the crunch that comes from one of spring’s first vegetables. I adore radishes, and am always on the lookout for a new variety, but to be totally honest, nothing beats the taste of a traditional red radish. I love them thinly sliced by themselves, or sprinkled with a little sea salt and layered with goat cheese on a crusty baguette. I’m the first to descend on a pile of radishes at a farmer’s market, and have grown them myself- from my trusty plot of somewhat sheltered garden to a bucket on my back porch. And when I see a vegetable tray at a party, with a few sad radishes carved into flowers and left there at the end of the night, I happily eat them and savor the spice, feeling a little sad for everyone who passed over the chance to have the radishes.
Radishes are not difficult to grow at all—but can be overwhelming. The fact that they germinate so quickly makes them ideal for new gardeners or kids. But because almost every seed in the packet sprouts, gardeners are soon faced with hundreds of radishes and what to do with them. My suggestion? Don’t spread an entire packet right away, or in one place. Sprinkle a few radishes among the seeds of your slower growing vegetables, such as broccoli or cauliflower. Use them as a marker for slower germinating plants, like parsnips and carrots, by planting them alongside the rows. Radishes also make good companion plants alongside cucumbers and squash to repel cucumber beetles, and alongside spinach to attract leafminers away from the spinach). Or plant some every other week to space out the harvest.
To plant radishes, sow seeds about ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart, starting 4-6 weeks before the last frost for spring radishes. You can sow weekly until early summer. For winter radishes start sowing in late summer. Once all of your seedlings are up, thin them to about 2 inches apart, unless they are larger varieties (then thin to 3-6 inches apart). Mulch with compost that has been enriched with wood ashes to keep root maggots away and help retain soil moisture.
Radishes like water in moderation; too dry and they get pithy, too wet and they split and rot. Frequently check your radishes as they mature quickly and some varieties can be ready to harvest within 3 weeks. When your crops are mature, pull the radishes- whether you need them or not. Cut off the leaves and store in bags in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. A few winter varieties can be left in the garden under a heavy straw mulch through the winter and pulled as needed.
For a small, mild variety, consider planting Cherry Belle. This tasty radish is ready in 21 days and can take the heat, so you can plant them all summer long.
Not crazy about heat yourself? For something a little different, try French Breakfast Radishes. Ready in 25 days, these radishes have a non-traditional shape and mild flavor.
For big beautiful radishes you can carve into culinary masterpieces, try Gurney’s Choice German Giant Parat Radishes. These beauties do not get pithy and are ready to harvest in 29 days. Plus, they can grow to several inches in diameter!