Since midwinter, I’ve eagerly awaited the arrival of my summer squash. I love the delicate flavor, lightly sautéed in olive oil, tossed with garlic and sea salt and perhaps some tender pasta. And zucchini cream pie is a perfect cool, creamy summertime treat!
A simple sauté of summer squash
But this wasn’t always the case. I distinctly remember, toward the end of August last year, swearing bitterly that if I ever had to look at another squash again I would scream. By this point my family had endured endless meals of sautéed squash, zucchini bread, squash noodles, squash lasagna, stuffed zucchini, grilled squash… if you can think of a way to prepare it, we tried it.
But that’s the beauty (and perhaps the curse) of the humble, easy-to-grow summer squash. They are so productive, so carefree, that by midsummer everyone and their neighbors have more than enough to go around. But that will never stop me from growing it!
This year, I’m excited to trial several new varieties at the Gurney’s farm. We have a beautiful range of colored varieties, from deepest gold to glossy green stripes to pale, butter yellow and pastel green-grey. All of the plants are extremely healthy and productive right now, but we shall see who holds up to the disease pressures of late summer.
Mix of summer squash at the farm
A favorite among the staff now is a variety aptly named Green Tiger. With its attractive dark and medium green striping, uniform straight fruit and compact habit, it’s hard not to like this variety.
Green Tiger Summer Squash
Another of my favorites is a pale grey-green variety named Katie. I’m partially biased because it shares a name with my kid sister, but it’s truly a top-rate variety! An excellent variety for sautéing because of its thin skin and tender texture, Katie’s fruit is more of a squat oval than the typically elongated summer squash shape.
Katie Summer Squash
Look for some of these new summer squash to join the Gurney’s website product offerings next spring. And, in the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the bounty of summer squash from your own garden!
By this point in the summer, I often find myself staring contemptuously at the weeds in my flower garden, wishing they’d take a hint and pack their bags. Unfortunately, they never do – and I have to find other ways to keep them out of the garden. Here are some clever ways you can succeed at controlling weeds.
- You might only see a bunch of weeds in your garden, but there’s plenty of weed seeds underground, lying in wait to be uncovered. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, and it also keeps the sunlight from reaching germinating weeds. Take care to replenish the mulch regularly so it remains about 2 inches deep and continues to play its part effectively. Weed barrier mats that let in air and moisture while cutting out the light offer a fast and simple means of curbing weed growth.
- Regular inspection will help you stay on top of weeds. Remove weeds as they emerge. This will be easiest just after a good rain. When it’s dry, try to cut the weeds just under the surface of the soil. Make sure you safely dispose the removed weeds.
- Non toxic pre-emergent weed controls are an excellent way of preventing weed growth while still maintaining a safe environment for your family and pets. Using a natural-action weed controls like IRON X!™ will help rid your lawn or garden of weeds and render it healthier, more beautiful at the same time.
- Next summer, think ahead: Plan your plantings so there’s no space left in between adjacent plants for weeds to take up. Opt for garden designs that involve drifts of close plantings or mass plantings instead of widely spaced polka dot designs. Take care, however, there’s enough gap between the plants that they don’t touch each other when fully grown for it can lead to poor air circulation, stunted growth and foliar diseases.
Garden netting can help deter birds from snacking in your garden.
Adorable as they are, birds can also be quite annoying, significantly so if you happen to be growing berries. We can get a bit cranky when the usually-lovable, feathered creatures launch a take-all assault on our beloved berry plants. How do you protect berry plants from birds – and save some fruit for yourself? Here are a few ideas
Physical bird repellents
Bird netting is effective in protecting berries from damage caused by birds as well as other animal pests. Simply drape it over your berry plants and fruit trees and you can relax. The netting available on our site is treated to hold up to rough weather and avoid entangling or trapping birds.
Audio and visual bird repellents
The good old-fashioned scarecrow is still kind of charming, and can be effective. Statues of predatory birds are another simple way of keeping birds off your berries. Don’t take those bird-brains for dumb- they’ll eventually figure out your ploy unless you move the scarecrow or faux predators around your garden on a regular bases.
Another way is to wrap your berry plants with strips of foil tape. The reflective surface of the tape, together with the noise they make in the wind will deter birds from venturing too close. CDs or pie plates tied on a string, hung close to your berry plants and grapevines are a similar, simple way of repelling birds.
Providing alternative food sources
Hunger is a potent motivator – and a nice berry bush or cherry tree will look like a feast to a hungry flock. Some gardeners swear by simple diversion to keep birds away from fruit plants Put up a bird bath and a bird feeder elsewhere on your property – the idea is that you’ll provide the birds with food and water so they leave your plants alone.
Birds can make great backyard friends – especially the ones that eat insect pests, providing cost effective and very effective insect pest control! They just happen to share our love for berries…and we can’t really blame them.
Due to a cold, wet spring our trial gardens at the Gurney Farm were slow to get growing. Now that the weather’s warmed up, they’ve really perked up and are growing well.
Our spinach looks beautiful. Our Product Development team is really impressed with Scorpius, a variety from a German breeding company. It has gorgeous deep green leaf color and great flavor. Plus, Scorpius is also supposed to be very heat tolerant. To test that, we’ll do a summer planting and see how it holds up to the Midwest heat and humidity.
The kale and lettuce are coming along nicely, and we hope to taste-test in about two weeks.
Our pea plants are growing well and about 8 inches tall. While we have no pods yet, we are taste-testing two varieties for “pea greens.” Pea greens are tender, leafy tendrils that can be cut and used in salads, lightly sautéed or served as an edible garnish. They have a sweet, ‘pea-like’ flavor.
Tasty Pea Tendrils
Our perennial sorrel patch looks great this spring. We are testing three varieties, including ‘Blood Vein’, a variety with attractive wide green leaves accented with deep red veining. It’s become the staff’s new favorite ornamental edible. With its bright lemony flavor, it makes a superb accent to salads and soups and is delightful paired with strawberries in a smoothie.
Sorrel Trials (and a lone chive plant)
Today we are also planting our tomato trials. We were finally able to scale back our selection to 20 tomato varieties. In 2014 we had over 30 varieties and found it to be a bit overwhelming! Through trial and error, we’ve found that training plants to tall cow paneling works the best for us in these larger scale plantings. With cow paneling, we’re able to keep the plants neat and tidy, as well as improve air circulation and yield. However, in my home garden, I prefer using individual tomato cages because I don’t have to spend the time pruning and training my plants. It’s hard to believe that in less than 2 months we’ll be enjoying juicy, red-ripe tomatoes!
Stay posted for updates on what is happening at the Gurney Farm throughout the growing season.
All gardeners have their favorite crops that they plant year after year. But planting the same crops in the same space every season can have an adverse effect on the plants’ health and performance as well as the soil. Rotating crops annually is the key to maintaining a healthy, productive garden.
Benefits of Rotating Vegetable Crops
Crop rotation is an effective means of managing crop-specific diseases, weeds and insects. It helps you get the best out of your garden. In the long run, it helps improve the soil’s physical, chemical and biological characteristics as well as its organic matter content. Rotation of crops also reduces erosion and helps the plants consistently produce to their potential.
Planning Crop Rotation
The general rule for crop rotation is this: do not grow plants from the same family in the same space more than once every three years.
If gardeners with small growing spaces are unable to do this, they should aim for changing the planting mix every 2-3 years. This helps minimize the risks of crop-specific pests and diseases while still improving the soil.
Gardeners with adequate growing spaces should plan out their crop rotations. Start with a paper template that shows the vegetable crops and growing areas. Record what plants you grew in each area every year. Before each growing season, map out a plan for the garden. For instance, if you planted peas in area X of your garden last year, use that space for squash instead.
It helps to follow nitrogen-enriching crops with crops that thrive on nitrogen. If you plant peas or beans in an area one year, plant kale, cabbage and other leafy greens that thrive on high nitrogen the following year.
To get you started, some of the common plant families are listed below.
Beans enrich the soil with nitrogen. This family (Fabaceae) includes green beans, green peas, peanuts and alfalfa.
The Solanaceae, or Nightshade, family includes heavy feeders like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants. Make a note to avoid following up a potato crop with tomatoes for they can fall prey to late blight-causing microorganisms that might have survived in the soil.
Also called Brassicaceae, the cabbage family includes cabbage, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other leafy greens, all known to relish nitrogen-rich soils. They’re the ideal follow-ups to members of the bean family.
The family Cucurbitaceae comprises heavy feeders like gourds, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, summer and winter squash. Rotate your crops in such a way that these heavy feeders find themselves in a spot with rich, fertile soil.
Each year I like to take on a new gardening challenge. This year my goal is to be better organized—and I’ve started by organizing my seeds.
Decide how many seeds you want to store – and for how long!
There is nothing worse than finally having the perfect planting weather and not being able to find a lettuce seed packet I know I’ve purchased. Getting my seed packets organized has proven to be a huge time saver in the garden. And, it’s a task that can be done on rainy days.
Some thrifty and nifty ways to store seed packs include inserting packs into photo albums, alphabetically organizing them into expanding file folders, or tucking them into hanging shoe organizers. The best organization method will depend on how much seed you have and where you want to store it long term.
Here is a system that works well for me:
- Group seed together by type (carrots, peppers, tomatoes, etc). Each type gets a plastic sandwich bag. Label the baggie along the top edge so that it’s easily readable.
- The baggies are lined up in a plastic bin (shoebox size works well). When not in use, I store the seed boxes in a dark, cool corner of my basement.
- Incoming seed is placed into the appropriate baggie as it arrives. Once I have all my seed, I pull out the bins and choose what to grow that year. At this time, I also check packet dates and toss old seed.
- Everything being planted this season is separated into three categories. I use a 1-gallon baggie to hold each:
- Early Sow Indoors
- Early Sow Direct
- Direct Sow-After Frost.
- When it’s time to sow, I simply grab the appropriate 1 gallon baggie and take it with me to the garden or the potting table.
Below is a guideline for how long you can expect your seed to stay viable (Oregon State University). Optimal storage conditions can lead to a greater shelf life. If in doubt, you can always perform a germination test prior to planting.
1 Year: sweet corn, parsnips, spinach
2 Years: bush, pole beans, beets, parsley, peas, peppers, Swiss chard
1-3 years: annual flower seed
2-3 Years: leeks, onions
2-4 Years: perennial flower seed
3 Years: tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, oriental greens, rutabagas
3-4 Years: squash
3-5 Years: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, collards, kale
4 years: radish, turnips
I group my seeds together by type.
Pea seed can be sown before the threat of frost has passed.
We’re still experiencing some frosty mornings—and the soil is still too cool to plant many vegetables. But there are some veggies you can plant now. Cool season spring vegetables not only withstand the cool conditions, they actually relish them. Take a look at some of the vegetables you can (and should!) plant right away.
Lettuce does well in both sunny and partly shaded sites provided the soil has good drainage and is rich in humus and nitrogen. You can grow lettuce for baby greens or wait and harvest when they’ve grown into full-sized leaves or heads. If you’re aiming for baby greens, make sure you sow lettuce seeds closer together in rows. Cover the seeds with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil (or as mentioned on the seed packet).
While spinach grows best in sunny sites, it can produce a hearty harvest even in partly shaded spots. Look for a site with moist, but well-drained soil. Spinach is one of the most frost-resistant and fast-growing spring vegetables. You can harvest fresh baby spinach in just three weeks after planting. When growing for baby leaves, remember to plant spinach seeds close together in rows.
Arugula relishes sunny or partly shaded sites with organically rich, moist, well-drained soil. Arugula seeds germinate in about 7 days and you can harvest within 3-4 weeks of planting. Want a continuous harvest? Sow more seeds every 2 weeks, right until hot weather arrives.
Find a sunny or partly shaded spot that isn’t open to strong winds and you’re good to plant your pea seeds. While peas will thrive in most soil types (apart from heavy, impermeable clay), make sure to add plenty of organic material if your soil isn’t too fertile. Soak pea seeds in water overnight before you plant them in the garden.
The perfect potatoes come from sites in full sun, with loose, well-drained soil. They root aggressively and are capable of turning in big yields even in less than perfect soil and growing conditions. Eradicate all weeds from the site before you plant potatoes. Depending on the variety that you plant, your potatoes will be fully mature at anywhere from 60 to 130 days.
A site that receives full sun and has organically rich, well-drained soil is perfect for growing onions. Make sure you remove all weeds from the area and work in good quantities of compost before planting onions. Green onions will be ready for harvest within 30-40 days of planting and will fully mature in about 100 days.
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!
Our greenhouse manager starting tomato seeds.
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.
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.
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 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!