Categories

Success with sweet potatoes – how to plant and harvest a superfood

Murasaki Sweet Potatoes

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

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.

 

 

Share

“Gotta Have It” – I really do!

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

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!

Share

All About…Summer Squash

Scallop Hybrid Mix Summer Squash

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 Zucchini Summer Squash

Zucchini

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.

Pattypan

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 Summer Squash

Yellow

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.

Hybrids

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!

 

Share

The sweet life -grow your own corn!

Gotta Have It Hybrid Sweet Corn

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

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!

 

Share

All about melons – How to grow muskmelons and watermelons

Gurney's Li'l Sweet Hybrid Cantaloupe

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

Sugar Baby Watermelon

Space

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.

Warmth

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

Sugar Cube Hybrid Melon

Water

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.

Nutrients

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.

Protection

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.

Share

Some like it hot: How to grow radishes

German Giant Parat Radishes

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.

Amethyst Radish

Amethyst Radish

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!

Share

All about planting tomatoes – and keeping insects away!

Improved Gurney Girl II

Improved Gurney Girl II

There truly is nothing more delicious than a warm, red, sun-ripened tomato direct from your garden. And the beauty of tomatoes is that they are fairly easy to grow, and no matter what your space limitations are, you can find one to fit your needs- either tucked into a container on your modest porch or staked in rows in your vegetable garden. One of my favorite ways to plant tomatoes is to plant a Roma variety in a large container and surround it with basil at the base- not only are they good companion plants, but it gives me a really nice supply of ingredients for salads and sauces all summer long.

One summer I planted several varieties of tomatoes- including a gorgeous heirloom- and waited anxiously for my plants to start producing fruit. But something wasn’t quite right, and something was eating my tomato plant leaves and leaving behind hard, round, brown pellets. We found the problem- tomato hornworms, and lots of them. I lost most of my crop that year, but the next year, I took precautions; and also learned a valuable lesson, that no plant, including tomato plants, is entirely fool proof (or bug proof). There are products out there to help with deterring or getting rid of pests like the tomato hornworm, and preventing issues such as blight or mildew. I try to watch for eco-friendly options, like Gurney’s Soap Shield® Fungicidal Soap. You can also plant dill near your tomato plants, as the tomato hornworm likes dill better, and they are easier to spot on the dill plants.

Besides being on the lookout for fungus and “very hungry caterpillars”, tomatoes can be relatively easy to grow. Due to the large variety of tomatoes available, it’s important to take some time to plan and decide which varieties are best for you and your yard. Also consider what you will be using your tomatoes for- canning, cooking, juicing, or just eating. Unless you plan on canning, you really only need about 3 to 6 tomato plants for your household; and if you grow from seed, you can save the seeds for up to three years- which makes a small investment go a very long way.

Beefsteak Tomato

Beefsteak Tomato

Tomato seeds should be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost and will germinate in a week when set in a sunny, humid spot. Once the second set of leaves emerges, seedlings can be transplanted to new containers, and once the weather warms, can be hardened off prior to planting in the garden. Hardening off not only gets the plants ready for outdoor temperatures, but also helps develop a rigorous root system. Tomatoes should be planted in full sun. If you are planting early, or if you would like to speed up the growth of your tomatoes, you can use a product that wraps around them like Kozy Kotes. Spacing depends on your own individual preference (and available space)- if you are staking or using a trellis, leave 2 feet between plants; if you plan on letting the tomatoes sprawl, leave 3 to 4 feet between plants. And if you are choosing to plant in a container, use a trellis or tomato cage. Once you’ve planted tomatoes, keep them weed free and then add a deep layer of mulch to keep in moisture. Vegetable food is an excellent idea for tomatoes, and Gurney’s has a Tomato Food that is a blend of fast and slow release nutrients and can also be used on your peppers and eggplants.

Once your tomatoes start to produce fruit, check them daily in order to pick your fruits at their peak and avoid any damage from heavy rotting fruit.

There are so many varieties- from small cherry tomatoes such as Sweet Baby Girl to heirlooms like Green Zebra and traditional big beefsteak varieties, Gurney’s has you covered! What’s your favorite tomato? Any tips- especially for battling pesky tomato hornworms?

Share

The Belle of the Ball – Cherry Belle Radishes (and more!)

German Giant Parat Radishes

German Giant Parat Radishes

This post is from one of Gurney’s gardening experts! Check back as we bring in guests from our Research and Product Development departments - 

Radishes aren’t one of those vegetables that I eat a lot of, but I love how quickly they go from seed to the table.  If the weather is warm, I’ve harvested Cherry Belle radishes only three weeks after sowing seed!  Many people like the hot-peppery flavored radishes, but I prefer mild varieties like Cherry Belle, Champion, and German Giant.  They make a great addition to salads.  Radishes are a great crop that can be sown throughout the growing season so that you can have tender, fresh, and crisp radishes all season long.

Cherry Belle Radish

Cherry Belle Radish

Normally Cherry Belle radish is ready to harvest in about 3 1/2 weeks from seed sowing.  However, this was an unusually cool spring and as you may have seen in my earlier posting, these are the same radishes that were damaged by a hard freeze in mid April.  I always include some Cherry Belle radishes in my garden because they are so reliable, quick to mature, and mild flavored, even as they get larger.

I’ve never tried freezing radishes for later use, if anyone has I’d like to hear how you did it! Let me know in the comments.

Share

Okra – an old-fashioned favorite!

Hill Country Red Okra

Hill Country Red Okra

While I do enjoy a structured, planned out garden – with perennial beds here, and neat rows of vegetables over there – sometimes I long for the randomized beauty of a cottage garden. I imagine roses rambling, bee balm swaying, and even vegetables mixed in with the hardy geraniums and cosmos. Many herbs and a few veggies have a growth form that lends itself well the organized chaos of a carefully planned (so as to look completely unplanned) look of a cottage garden. Okra is one of those plants.

Okra, a full-sun veggie, originally arrived in North America from Africa in the 1600s. The first cultivars were tropical plants, and okra became a staple side dish in the South, where it was also used as a thickener for stews and gumbo. Some varieties can reach up to 6 feet tall, and with their large hibiscus-like blossoms, okra can be a great addition to a garden border or bed. A few cultivars even have colored stems- such as Gurney’s Hill Country Red Okra, an heirloom vegetable with red-orange stems and green and red pods.

If you would prefer to grow your okra as part of your vegetable garden, a raised bed will work, or a sunny spot with fertile soil. Because okra does best in very warm temperatures, wait until the soil has warmed up and the air temperature is over 60°. Prior to planting, nick the seed coats or soak them overnight to speed germination. Seeds can also be started indoors about 6 weeks before setting them outside (wait to transfer outside until 4 weeks after last frost). For direct sown okra, sow seed about half an inch deep, space 3 inches apart, and keep rows 3 feet apart- remember, okra grows fast and gets big. Thin seedlings to about 24 inches apart, keeping the strongest of the plants for highest success.

Clemson Spineless 80 Okra

Clemson Spineless 80 Okra

Mulch should be used to help retain soil moisture and keep out weeds, but be careful- okra plants have very fragile taproots, so care should be taken when they are transplanted and when weeding. Compared to other vegetables, okra is very drought-tolerant, but if you want good pod production, consider watering at least an inch per week, just like other vegetables. As summer heat rolls in and your other vegetables fade, okra will start to grow- fast. Tender pods follow the gorgeous blooms, and must be picked early as they get tough and stringy if they stay on the plant too long. Once your okra is producing, it’s a good idea to check it every day for any pods that might be ready for harvesting. When harvesting okra, wear gloves and long sleeves, as the stiff hairs on the leaves can cause itching. Or, opt for a spineless variety such as Clemson Spineless 80 Okra.  Remember, okra is a “cut and come again” vegetable, so harvest often- and share your bounty!

Share

“Aubergine,” or eggplant, is surprisingly easy to grow

Twilight Hybrid Eggplant

Twilight Hybrid Eggplant

The word, “aubergine” rolled of the tongue of our neighbor much easier than it did mine. I can remember the gorgeous deep purple fruits and the dense feeling of holding them freshly picked. I’d walk home and tell my mom Mrs. Scott had given us another eggplant- then I would try to mimic the way she said “aubergine,” making this vegetable sound mysterious and elegant. Then it would sit, sadly, as no one in my house really knew what to do with it. I just knew that I took Mrs. Scott tomatoes from our garden, and she gave us “aubergines.”

As an adult, though, I adore eggplant- it’s my favorite thing to find at farmers’ markets. The more unique the coloring, the better- from pale white to long skinny violet and striped squat globes, eggplant varieties are extraordinarily unique. Also, I’ve learned how to use them- roasted and pureed in Baba Ghanoush; sliced and grilled with a little EVOO; or thinly sliced and layered with tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella and baked to perfection for my own enjoyment as eggplant Parmesan.

 

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Bianca Rosa Eggplant

Growing eggplant is much easier than I thought it would be. Eggplants make great container plants and do well in raised beds, which get warmer soil earlier in the spring. If starting your plants from seed, it’s a good idea to start seeds several weeks (6 to 9) before the last fast frost. Or, buy already-started plants and place them in the ground after the last frost. Eggplants love warmth and do best in sunny, well-drained spots in the garden, and plants should be mulched around the base to retain moisture and keep roots cool. Most varieties grow into tall, stately plants- making excellent statement pieces as singular planting in pots, or lining the sunny edge of your vegetable garden. It’s a good idea to invest in some type of liquid fertilizer or food, such as Gurney’s Vegetable Food and some cages or supports like the Pepper and Eggplant Support.

 

Some varieties I have my eye on this season:

Rosa Bianca Eggplant: An Italian heirloom eggplant, I’ve seen the fruit from the Rosa Bianca at farmers’ markets. The coloring alone makes me want to grow it; the fact that it is a favorite of chefs makes it a definite choice for me.

Twilight Hybrid Eggplant: High yields are the big promise of this traditionally- colored eggplant. This one would be a vegetable garden staple (and most like the ones Mrs. Scott shared with me when I was growing up).

Ophelia Hybrid Eggplant: This one is perfect for containers, with a compact habit the lilac and white blooms that are just stunning! Easy to grow and great for cooking, plus does well in tight spaces, this eggplant would be the best one for beginning gardeners or those with small spaces.

So, sound off- are you growing eggplant? Any tips and tricks for our readers?

Share