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Spring is Coming to the Gurney’s Farm

Gurney's Blue Ribbon Hybrid Broccoli

Gurney’s Blue Ribbon Hybrid Broccoli

Here at the Gurney’s farm, we are busy preparing for spring. The greenhouse is being warmed up, irrigation is back up and running and trial packets of seed are arriving daily.

We spent the winter compiling wish lists of vegetable varieties and finally narrowed down our final selections in February. As a gardener, you know it’s easy to go overboard. Each year we struggle with keeping the varieties—especially the tomatoes—at a reasonable number. In our half-acre trial garden we’ll be planting a wide range of vegetables with a big focus this year on sweet corn (18 varieties), bush beans (11 varieties), lettuce (18 varieties) and tomatoes (25 varieties). The early season cool crops have already been started in the greenhouse; we’re up to 9 flats (648 plants total) of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and leeks. The warm season crops will be started soon.

Our trial manager and her assistant are responsible for all aspects of planting, tending and harvesting the vegetable garden. It’s a big job for just two people, but we have a beautiful garden each year. All season long we watch and evaluate our crops—taking note of yields, plant health and hardiness, disease susceptibility and more. When harvest time and taste testing roll around we try to persuade as many people as possible to participate. For some reason we always get plenty of volunteers for watermelon and sweet corn…but few for Brussels sprouts and okra!

This whole process helps us select the very best varieties to offer to you in the Gurney’s catalog and on the website.  In fact, many of the new items in this spring’s catalog were top performing varieties in our 2014 trials, including the Gurney’s Blue Ribbon Hybrid Broccoli and Gurney Girl’s Hybrid Tomato. This year we’ll be playing with some gardening techniques as well—raised beds, container gardening, trellising techniques, companion planting and experimenting with how to attract more pollinators to the garden. We’re also looking at way to expand our growing season–from finding vegetable varieties that are extremely cold and heat tolerant, to which row covers offer the best winter protection, to which root crops, winter squash and pumpkins perform the best in storage.

Look for updates to the blog on how our trials are progressing through the spring and summer.  In the mean time, think spring!

Manager starting tomato seeds.

Our greenhouse manager starting tomato seeds.


Cruciferous Vegetables

I admit: I’m a sucker for healthy food marketing schemes. Which grains, which colors, which cooking styles to use – I’m definitely guilty of observing magazine tips and daytime talk show fads. And, I’m constantly trying the newest thing in the health food aisle (because those “low fat”-labeled cookies are healthy, right? right?). But, nutrition doesn’t really change. Vitamins, nutrients, and fiber are the hallmarks of truly nutritious food. If an alien life force demanded that I take him  to the earth’s healthiest food source – I’d have to recommend nutrient-rich vegetables. We all know that green vegetables are among the most healthy foods – but which are the best and brightest among them? Let’s talk about cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous Cabbage

The term cruciferous vegetables encompasses a large section of popular veggies including Arugula, cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, radish, and watercress. These vegetables pack good quantities of dietary fiber, along with protein, omega-3s and other macronutrients. They contain many B-complex vitamins, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and detox nutrients, along with their own set of phytonutirents and glucosinolates which do not occur in the same extent in any other food group known to man. Cruciferous vegetables bring to the table a range of nutrients broader than any other food group and as such are a must for every conceivable healthy eating plan. But that isn’t all.

Recent studies have revealed a link between cruciferous veggies and cancer protection. Sulforaphane, a phytochemical present in cruciferous vegetables has been found to stimulate enzymes that detoxify carcinogens before they can damage the cells. Indole 3-carbinol and crambene- compounds found in cruciferous vegetables are also suspected of activating detoxifying enzymes through different mechanisms. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables can vastly reduce the overload of oxygen-free radicals, reducing oxidative stress along with the chances of your contacting breast, colon, lung, prostate and other cancers.


Where are you, spring?

It’s March at last, but the cold, dreary winter weather is still hanging around, refusing to give up and let spring take hold.  These last few weeks of cold, wet days are always the hardest to take.  Planting season is so close, yet feels so far away.  If you are like me and you simply can’t wait until your garden reappears from under the snow, here are a few projects to tide you over.

  • Plant microgreens. They are tasty, nutritious and easy. Seedlings do well under a grow light or in a bright, sunny window, and they will be ready to eat in 1-2 weeks!
  • Did you store onions over the winter? If you have any left, I’ll bet they are beginning to sprout.  Bring them out into the light and place in a pretty container; no soil or water is necessary.  They will produce some lovely green onion tops for use in the kitchen.
  • Get your kids excited for gardening season. Sprout some beans or peas in a jar so they can watch the magic unfold. Plant a sprouting potato or force some spring bulbs in an indoor container.
  • Get ready to plant seeds. Make paper pots from old newspaper and get your seedling labels and trays ready.
  • Make sure you’re ready for gardening season. Clean up your tools, wash your gardening gloves and check your supplies.


    Easy to grow indoors, microgreens can provide fresh nutrition when it’s too cold to garden outdoors.

  • Onions in Pot

    Onions from last season can provide tops to use in cooking.

  • It's easy to sprout beans in a jar - and kids will love watching these little seedlings grow!

    It’s easy to sprout beans in a jar – and kids will love watching these little seedlings grow!


Gurney’s Perfect Pickle Cucumber

Cucumbers- the perfect snack or salad topper, and the perfect addition to your summer garden! Considering their crunchy, refreshing taste and quick proliferation, cucumbers are among the vegetables I look forward to most. Growing cucumbers is fairly easy and highly rewarding. But those of us with a limited growing space are often faced with a difficult choice- Should we grow slicing cucumbers or go for a pickling variety? What if we want both? I’m pleased that Gurney’s is now offering the Perfect Pickle Cucumber– the most delicious dual use cucumber ever! These dark green cucumbers have a wonderful sweet taste, great texture, very small seed cavity – and zero bitterness.

Gurney’s Perfect Pickle Cucumber will perform best in sunlit planting sites with well drained fertile soil. You can plant cucumber seeds in the garden once the soil temperature has reached 60 degrees, with no threat of frost. Sow cucumber seeds at a depth of 1 inch, allowing a separation of 12-18 inches between the plantings. Space the rows/hills 4-5 feet apart. Keep the soil moist and the seedlings should be out in 8-10 days time. Perfect cucumber plants are vigorous, with exceptional disease resistance. They’re also pretty easy going- water them regularly and they’ll keep at their business, which is to give you a hearty yield in about 40 days time. Pick the fruits when they’re 3-4 inch long for the best pickles ever. Wait until the cucumbers are a little longer, and you’ll have the perfect slicers for salads and snacks!



Hugelkultur beds to enrich your garden


Hugelkultur gardening uses raised beds over decomposing wood and compost.

If you’re like me, for the last several months you’ve been drooling over glossy, full color images of juicy red tomatoes, crisp green lettuce and luscious ripe peaches in the gardening catalogs. You’ve probably been dreaming of the coming spring’s garden, remembering last year’s successes, forgetting the failures, and making wish list after wish list of the new fruits and veggies you want to try (without regard for how you will actually fit 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in your garden).

But now that we’re in the fourth week of February with temps 30 degrees lower than average, I’m starting to wonder if spring will ever come.  I’m trying to hold out hope, but in the meantime, the planning continues.

The first big project I’m jumping into as soon as the weather breaks is the construction of my new hugelkultur beds.  I just learned about hugelkultur (a German word roughly translating to hill or mound culture) while attending the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference.

Hugelkultur essentially replicates the natural process of decomposition that occurs on the forest floor—think of all that beautiful rich, black hummus that occurs when branches, logs and fallen leaves decompose.  The beauty of the hugelkultur method is you can create nature’s perfect growing media in full sun, right in your backyard or wherever is a convenient location for the vegetables and fruit you want to grow.

Some of the benefits of the hugelkultur method include: better moisture retention in your growing beds, improved drainage, increased soil fertility and soil biota.  This is a no-till method of gardening, and if you use biointensive planting or a square foot gardening style, very little weeding needs to be done.

The most commonly recommended size to start with seems to be a 6’ long by 3’ tall hugelkultur bed, but I may get creative.  I’ve seen images online of some really beautiful hugelkultur beds– Schooner Farms in northern Ohio has created a replica of the ancient Serpent Mound using hugelkultur. Beds can be constructed on top of lawn or existing garden space. You may also choose to scrape off the top layer of grass/topsoil and use this on top of your bed when finished.

To create your bed, simply arrange the logs in the size/shape you want your beds to be, pack leaves and wood chips tightly in between, use branches to create an interlocking “frame” for your bed, pack straw and compost tightly between the branches and finish off with topsoil.  Plant your seeds/plants and cover with a mulch.

Hugelkultur seems to be a perfect choice for my tiny homestead. We live in a partially wooded area so we have access to fallen trees, branches and leaves which all need to be cleaned up and used anyways. The hardest part may be deciding what I want to plant in my beds once I get them built.  I suppose I may have a few more weeks of winter planning to figure that part out!



Starting a Vegetable Garden

With all the plotting, planning, and assessment of variables – prepping to start a vegetable garden sounds much like going to war. Fortunately, it isn’t! Here’s some inside intel (read: start-a-garden tips) to help you out.

Make a map
Not talking about bringing in a cartographer, just grab a pen/pencil, a piece of paper and make a map of the land available for gardening (to scale, preferably), marking out the sunny, shaded areas. This will help decide the best locations for your vegetable plants and overall organization process.

Do a soil test
Get a good soil test kit and ascertain the nutrient levels and imbalances in the soil. Many county extension offices offer soil testing services for cheap – check with yours! You’ll want to make the necessary amendments – organic matter if the soil is too acidic, lime if it’s too alkaline – to the soil before planting.

Plan for irrigation
Regular irrigation is paramount to the success of this operation (i.e. your new garden.) Check the varieties of seeds you’re planning for, and determine whether the soil is too dry or too wet for your selections.

Select targets
By targets, I mean the vegetable varieties you want to grow. List your favorite vegetables by family. It’ll help you plan rotations in the future. Write down the estimated planting date, days to maturity and harvest for each variety. Oh, and remember to identify and mark the ideal spots for every variety on the map. Take your time when you’re at it, organizing individual vegetable varieties such that they’re getting the right conditions and companions for optimum growth.
Study the space allotted to each plant variety in your map, consider the space a single seed or plant will require and ascertain how many seeds and plants you’ll need to buy.

Next step, order your seeds and get ready for some fun in the sun (and in the dirt!).


New Fruit Varieties for 2015

Romeo Cherry

Romeo Cherry

Fruits- the sweetest source of dietary fiber, essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients, and for many, the very reason they started gardening. Growing fruits is about as close us grownups can get to the excitement of stealing them from some unsuspecting neighbor’s garden. Growing new fruit varieties, now that’s even closer! Take a look at some of the newest additions to Gurney’s roster- the hottest new fruit varieties for 2015.

RazzMatazz Grapes

Grape lovers, we bring you the break-through in the world of grapes- RazzMatazz WOW Fruit Now! This sumptuous seedless self pollinator combines the disease resistance and hardiness of muscadines with the tender-crisp texture of table grapes. The result is sumptuous deep burgundy grapes that produce hearty yields right from midsummer to the first frost. No need for spraying! This sun loving variety is a must for grape lovers in Zones 7-9 – those Southern regions where fruit can be tough to grow. RazzMatazz is the first-ever continuously fruiting seedless muscadine grape – meaning that you’ll see continuously growing bunches of grapes all down the vine!

Early Blue and Sunrise Honeyberries

Fruit growers in Zones 3-8 will have a wonderful year with Early Blue and Sunrise- two new honeyberry varieties that better the deliciousness of the best of blueberries with an amazing sweet-tart flavor. Gurney’s “blueberries with an attitude” are the earliest (ripening in late May-June) and the tastiest of all honeyberries. These wonderful honeyberries require no spraying and relish partially shaded sites (Sunny planting sites recommended for regions in the far North.)

Romeo Dwarf Cherry

Finally, a cherry that’s larger, juicier and sweeter than Carmine Jewel. It even has the same great plant habit! These full sized cherries are a glossy deep crimson, with amazingly rich sugar levels for a tart cherry type. Romeo Dwarf is a sun loving self pollinator with exceptional cold-hardiness and high flesh-to-pit ratio. An absolute must for fruit gardeners in zone 2-7.


Seed Stories

Sea Beat

Sea beats are common ancestors of spinach, chard and modern beets.
[Image by Rmrony, via Wikimedia Commons]

Every garden tells a tale. Seeds, the smallest, single most essential constituent of a garden, have their own stories- ancient, diverse and very intriguing. These produce vegetables have been propagated for centuries, and have evolved from wild species to the cultivated vegetables we know today! The stories of evolution of beans, beets, chards and many of your favorite vegetable seeds can give valuable insights into their characteristics and growth mechanisms – and this knowledge can help us succeed with our modern plants!

Bean and Pea seeds

The wild forefathers of beans were quite dramatic – seed dispersal involved a literal explosion of the pods, which would result in seeds getting scattered as far as 10 feet away from the parent crop. Modern day bean and pea varieties might be a lot less dramatic, but they remain viable for several years. The young plants are a big hit with rabbits, mice and other animals and ergo, will do well with some protection in form of row covers. The flowers of both beans and peas are self pollinating, so you need not worry about the covers keeping out beneficial insects.

Beet, Chard and Spinach seeds

Beets, chard and spinach all belong to the same plant family – with this in mind, we can find many similarities between these vegetables.. Modern day beets and chard are the ancestors of wild sea beets, coastal plants prevalent in West Asia and Europe. Like their wild ancestors, chard and beet seeds are salt-tolerant and primarily wind-propagated. They’ll sprout in clumps that require thinning. Spinach seeds, much like their aforementioned relatives, are cold tolerant and may not germinate if the soil temperatures are too high. Luckily, there’s a way around- germinate spinach seeds in a cool place and then move the seedlings to your late summer garden. This will set you up for a superb fall crop!


Gurney’s Superfood Salad Blend – New for Spring 2015!

Salad Blend

The road to getting healthier is paved with green. And what better way to start than with a hearty helping of healthy green salad?! But salad greens aren’t all alike- some are tastier, crunchier and perhaps more importantly, more nutritious than others. So does that imply it’s hard to make the perfect green salad? No, certainly not with Gurney’s Superfood Salad Blend! Here’s a blend of salad greens that are easy to grow, delicious and rate sky high on nutrition. It’s new for our catalog this spring, and we’re very excited about it!

The Ingredients

Gurney’s Superfood Salad Blend comprises spinach, chicory, endive, chard and beet greens, forming an intriguing, very flavorful mix of tastes and textures- everything you can ask of a nutritious salad. We’ve chosen individual salad ingredients not just for their taste and nutritional value, but for the wonderful way they compliment and accentuate the texture and flavor of all the other ingredients. Warning: You’re never going to want to go back to your regular green salad once you’ve tried our salad blend.

Why Grow Greens?

Greens have always been a staple of healthy eating, and they’re becoming a favorite of healthy foodies as calorie-conscious bloggers and chefs create recipes that incorporate spinach and chard. Tender baby greens make a great salad, but you can also allow the salad greens to mature for use in stews, casseroles and juicing. Always nice to have more options, isn’t it?

Growing these leafy greens is cheaper than picking them up at the health food store or supermarket, so take advantage of the growing season this year!


What’s a Triploid Watermelon?

A Triploid watermelon is a seedless watermelon hybrid.  Seedless watermelons are created through traditional breeding techniques and were first produced over 50 years ago.  The process involves no genetic modification.  These melons tend to be high in flavor and better for storing and shipping.  Without seeds and seed cavities the fruit does not break down as quickly and thick rinds offer better fruit protection.

The science behind the seed: 

Standard (seeded) watermelon varieties are diploid, meaning they have two sets of chromosomes (2x).  Seedless watermelons are triploid, containing three sets of chromosomes (3x), they are sterile; or seedless.   Triploids are created by crossing a diploid parent (2x) with a tetraploid parent (4x).  Each parent gives one half of its’ chromosomes to the resulting offspring, giving us a (3x) triploid melon.   A similar comparison is crossing a donkey and a horse to create a mule.

How to Grow Triploid Watermelon: 

Triploid (seedless) watermelon cannot self-pollinate! Therefore, in order to get fruit formation you must plant a diploid watermelon alongside your triploid planting.  Don’t let this fact deter you; there are many terrific diploid watermelons that will also serve as a pollinator for your seedless melon.  Try planting our Gurney’s Delight Hybrid (seedless) watermelon along with Sugar Baby (seeded) watermelon as your pollinator.  Both melons are terrifically flavorful and very attractive!

Triploid Watermelon