Chickens do a great job of ridding the garden of pests and rotted veggies.
When I decided to start raising chickens, I was thinking only of high quality, fresh eggs. But, I soon learned that my feathered friends had far more to offer – bringing chickens onto the property was one of the best things I ever did for the vegetable garden! They help turn my compost pile, clean up the garden, and turn unwanted insects and food waste into valuable compost. Having free range chickens in your vegetable garden can be a bit tricky. I’ve learned the hard way that they like to eat many of the same things that we do!
Floating row covers keep the birds from pecking at seedlings.
I love to see my chickens out frolicking in the yard, but there are certain times of the year when they have to stay in the coop for the sake of the garden. Once I’ve sown seed in the spring, the girls are no longer allowed out to play. They love to take dust baths in freshly-dug soil, and they’ll quickly destroy a planting bed.
As soon as the spring seedlings are up and well-established, I welcome the eager hens back into the garden. They may nibble on a leaf from time to time, but the damage is minimal and the benefits are many. Then, once again it’s back to life in the coop when the tomatoes and peppers start to ripen. Chickens are very keen at finding a perfectly ripe tomato! Don’t feel too bad for the caged birds; they get so many garden scraps during the summer season that they turn up their beaks when I visit them with the compost bucket.
The flock is back in the garden again in late summer and through the fall and winter. I plant a much smaller fall garden, and use tomato cages, fences and floating row covers to protect delicate seedlings from my birds’ constantly pecking beaks. It’s well worth taking the extra time to protect the fall seedlings so the chickens can be in the garden. I find them especially helpful at cleaning up the garden this time of year when neglected and rotting veggies are inevitable.
I caught one of the “girls” helpfully chasing moles from the vegetable garden!
The routine I’ve established is just one of many ways for your chickens to coexist with the vegetable garden. A few other options that gardeners may use include chicken tractors, garden fences, or portable chicken fencing. Whatever method you chose, there are many benefits to free-ranging the flock! Free-ranging chickens require much less store-bought feed, and their egg yolks take on a gorgeous deep orange color. They keep the yard and garden clean of fleas, ticks and other unwanted insects; I’ve even witnessed my girls killing moles and garden voles. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, chickens are ridiculously entertaining and make great companions!
The flowers from many of your favorite herbs are edible – and delicious!
When a friend shared her recipe for cilantro root pesto, I was immediately intrigued. All this time, I had been wasting a perfectly edible plant part? At the first opportunity I dug up a plant and tried her recipe. The results were amazing – stir fries will never be the same again! Since discovering the glorious flavor of cilantro root, I’ve been on a mission to discover and use the lesser known edible parts of my garden plants. Here’s a list to get you started on your next culinary adventure!
Cilantro (Coriander)-Chop the roots in a food processor with olive oil, garlic and pepper. Add this to stir fries, salad dressing or soups. A little goes a long way; the roots are full of flavor. Flowers can be used as garnish, or in salads. Seeds taste best when crushed just prior to using; often used in Indian and Latin recipes.
Parsley- Roots can be eaten fresh, roasted or added to soups and stews
Dill-Add flowers to pickles, or potato salad. Seeds are used toasted, fried or added into soups, salads and pickling brine.
Basil/Chives/Mint/Rosemary/Thyme/Sage-You can eat the flowers of all these herbs; flavors are similar to the leaves.
Arugula-flowers taste similar to the leaves, add to salads, or use as a garnish
Pea – Add the young tendrils, shoots and flowers to stir fries and salads. Pea shoots can easily be grown indoors for winter greens.
Squash- Add young shoots to salads or lightly sauté with garlic. Flowers are wonderful stuffed, baked, or fried. Toasted seeds makes a great snack or salad topper.
Watermelon-Pickle the rinds
Sweet potato leaves- Braise leaves and stems with garlic.
Garlic- Use the gorgeous flower scapes as you would use the garlic bulb. They are also good pickled, or made into a pesto.
Popcorn- Young shoots are super sweet and very attractive. Add to smoothies, salads or soups.
Sunflower-Young shoots taste much like the seeds.
Nasturtium- The spicy flowers are a great addition to salads. Dried flowers can be added to salt for a tasty and attractive alternative. Leaves make a lovely garnish and are also good in pesto. Seed pods can be pickled and used as capers.
Radish- Seed pods can be pickled, tossed into stir fries or sprinkled on top of salads. Leaves can be eaten as salad greens when young or sauté older leaves with garlic. The flavorful flowers can be used as a garnish, or added to salads.
Carrot- Toss greens in a salad, quickly blanch, or make a pesto. Remember to save your seedlings for this purpose while thinning.
Beet, Turnip, Kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts – Eat the young leaves as a salad greens, or lightly sauté the mature greens. Grow for sprouts.
Cabbage, Broccoli- Stems can be eaten along with florets, chopped into a slaw, or added to soups and stews. Toss leaves into smoothies, stir fries or salads. Grow for sprouts.
This year at the Research and Development farm we grew a lot of popcorn. We’ll be doing taste trials once the cobs all dry down. In the mean time we are playing! Did you know you can put a whole ear of popcorn in the microwave and pop it right off the cob? Simply put the cob into a paper lunch sack and roll up the end a few times, making tight folds (for extra hold, use a piece of masking tape). Place the bag on its side in microwave for 2-3 minutes. Stay near the microwave and listen closely; times vary by machine. Stop the microwave as soon as the popping slows down, it burns quickly if left in too long. The popcorn will pop right off the cob and fill your bag! The kernels at the tip of the cob tend not to pop. You can either break this off prior to popping, or expect to see a few remaining on the cob after popping. We trialed our Mauveless variety and it works great. Try it for yourself, I guarantee your family and friends will be impressed!
Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower
There is one thing you must know about cauliflower before we go any further: cauliflower is temperamental. It only does well in consistently cool weather, is fussy about soil, and needs a near constant supply of water and nutrients. But we never back away from a challenge- so if you love the sweet taste of cauliflower (I love mine sliced thin and roasted in the oven), let’s equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to successfully grow cauliflower.
Cauliflower needs at least 6 hours of full sun per day, if not more.
Cauliflower prefers nitrogen and potassium rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter to help retain moisture. The pH must be between 6.5 and 6.8 to prevent clubroot disease.
Apply Gurney’s Vegetable Food before planting, and again after the plants develop new leaves, and again before heads form.
Plant fall crops about 6 to 8 weeks before the first fall frost, but be ready to shade your cauliflower plants if they need to be protected from any surprise heat waves.
Cauliflower should be planted about 18 inches to ensure plenty of room to grow.
To avoid stress, plants need even moisture. A layer of organic mulch will keep soil cool and moist and prevent weeds from sprouting.
A Little Help
Cauliflower is supposed to naturally self-blanch, where the leaves naturally curl over the head and shade it, ensuring it will be white and tender at harvest. Keep an eye on your heads and provide a little assistance if needed by pulling leaves up over the head and fastening them with a clothespin.
Interested in growing your own cauliflower? Try Gurney’s Snow Crown Hybrid Cauliflower or for something completely different, Veronica Hybrid Cauliflower. Any tips for us on cauliflower success? Let us know in the comments.
When browsing through your seed catalogs, you may notice some terminology that can be confusing. Seed is often categorized as open pollinated (op), heirloom or hybrid. Understanding these descriptions is especially important if you plan to save your own seed.
Open pollinated (OP)- These varieties can produce seed that is true to type, or that will grow the same plant again. It’s important to keep in mind that some species can easily cross-pollinate with each other, so their seed will only be true to type if varieties are isolated from each other.
Heirloom- These are open pollinated varieties that have been passed down within communities or families. Usually these varieties have been around for many years and continue to be treasured for great flavor, and adaptability and vigor. All heirlooms are open pollinated (OP), but not all open pollinated varieties are considered to be heirlooms.
Hybrid- Seeds created by controlled cross pollinating between two chosen varieties. These are often referred to as F1 plants. Seed collected from these plants will not produce the same plant, or they are not true to type. Hybrids are usually created with specific goals in mind, such as increased disease resistance, more fruit production, better flavor, etc.
French Fingerling Potatoes
Growing up in the Midwest, I learned early on the value of the potato. No holiday was complete without several side dishes featuring potatoes. I remember when redskin potatoes first became readily available, then Yukon golds (how did we ever make mashed potatoes before yukons?). And just a few years ago I was delighted to find an array of small fingerling potatoes at my favorite market, so I could make a red, white, and blue potato salad (the blue was really purple). Two summers ago I decided to try my hand at growing potatoes because the little seed potatoes at the market looked so cute, and my grandma insisted they were easy to grow. And she was right- my kids loved harvesting the potatoes, and the novelty of walking outside and digging up some potatoes for dinner never wore off.
Planting and Harvesting
Potatoes prefer well drained, fine sandy soil, with a lot of organic matter mixed in. If your soil is less than potato ready, consider planting a cover crop the year before. Crop rotation is key with potatoes- yes, even in your own garden. To avoid issues such as scab disease, do not add too much manure to your seedbed, and also watch the soil pH: for potatoes, the pH should be 5.0 to 5.5. Once your plants are started, remember potatoes need constant moisture, so water regularly. Once your plants are about 6 inches tall, you need to hoe the dirt around the base of the plant in order to keep the root covered and support the plant. This helps keep the potato from getting sunburned- which makes them turn green and taste bitter. Hilling should happen every two weeks for proper potato protection. Two weeks after the vines have naturally died down, it’s time to dig up your potatoes. If your weather is still hot, immediately take harvested potatoes to a dark, cool place- any exposure to sun can cause your potatoes to turn green and they may rot. Potatoes can be stored for about 4 to 6 weeks; if you need to store them longer than that, they must be cured in a dark place (temperature between 60 and 65 degrees and a humidity of 85 percent or higher for 10 days); after they are cured they can be kept in a very cool (40 to 45 degrees) dark humid place for several months.
Interested in trying your hand at potato propagation? Gurney’s has a wide variety of potatoes for you to choose from. Have a favorite potato variety? Let us know in the comments!
A few interesting varieties to try:
Purple Viking Potatoes: purple skin, white flesh, super delicious.
German Butterball Potatoes: great for everything- baking, frying, mashing.
Gurney’s Choice Red Pontiac Potatoes: best for mashing.
There’s no substitute for the amazing taste of fresh, homegrown apples
– so, of course, I always start craving them right when the growing season’s over. What do you do when it’s freezing outside and those insatiable taste buds demand a serving of apples? Reach for a jar of applesauce or butter! Just a little bit of work and planning ahead, and you’ll be able to enjoy your apple harvest well into the winter.
Canning is one of the simplest, most popular ways of preserving large quantities for long periods. If you like applesauce, you can prepare jars full at home in a matter of minutes, help yourself to as many servings as your tummy permits and preserve the rest to be savored for months afterward.
Here’s how you go about making the applesauce:
- Step one, wash the apples thoroughly in clean water.
- Next, slice each apple into four.
- Pick the largest kettle you can find (a smaller one will do if you aren’t using a lot of apples) and fill it with half a cup of water. This will prevent any risk of burning the apples.
- Place the kettle on the stove, fill in with the quartered apples and set the burner on high heat.
- Allow the apples to cook until they are mushy to touch. This will take some 20-30 minutes.
- Time to puree! Blend the cooked apples with an immersion type blender or simply mash them with a potato masher or a fork if you prefer your applesauce chunky.
- Add sugar/cinnamon/salt, allow it to cool.
- Serve alone or with waffles, pancakes, roasted potatoes or ice-cream.
Want to can your applesauce? Just a few more steps:
- Reheat the sauce to a boil, and stir often to prevent sticking.
- Fill jars with hot applesauce, leaving about a half inch at the top.
- Place your lids – use our Canning Tool Set for best results.
What’s your favorite way to use your apple harvest? Tell us in the comments!
One of the most obvious perks of growing your own food is the ability to bring the high-flavor, quality fruits and vegetables to every meal. But how do you savor this privilege when the days shorten and snow takes hold of the ground? It’s quite simple, by storing the produce. Potatoes, apples, carrots, squash and many other vegetables and fruits can be stored for 2 months (really!) to keep your taste buds happy and your body well-nourished until the next growing season.
Essentials of storing crops successfully
When it comes to storage, not all crops fare the same- there are varieties that’ll store better than others. Make sure to select these ‘good keepers’ when you’re picking crops for planting. You should time the planting in a way that your crops mature towards the end of season. Remember, crops harvested at their prime typically store better than the rest.
The first full-sized apple to fall off the tree usually indicates it’s time to harvest. You can harvest apples early if birds are a problem, or wait until just before the first frost. It’s always best to use a ladder when picking apples. Handle the fruits carefully to prevent bruising or bumping. Fruits with cuts and blemishes don’t store well, so feel free to bite into them, make apple sauce or use them in jams and desserts. Our Apple Parer/Corer/Peeler and Food Strainer and Sauce Maker will save both time and effort while getting the job done in perfect fashion. Place those perfect apples in trays or boxes lined with shredded newspaper and store them away in a cool, dark place.
Potato foliage will die back by the end of summer, signaling the time to dig out and cure them for storage. Lay out the tubers on clean newspaper sheets in a dark, well-ventilated place (with temperatures between 50-60 degrees F.) This will cause the skins to toughen up in within a couple of weeks. After a week or two, clean the tubers using dry cloth, removing dirt and pitching any damaged tubers. Place the spuds in ventilated baskets or boxes and cover them with newspaper or clean sheets to prevent the spread of rot. The ideal temperature for storing potatoes is 40-50 degrees F, and they should be kept in the dark.
Onions, just like potatoes, need to be cured before storage. And just like potatoes, their foliage will signal the right time to act- the leaves will flop back, which also tells you that they’ve stopped growing. Let the onions sit in the soil until the foliage has turned yellow and the necks have tightened. You can allow the harvested onions to sit on the soil for a couple of weeks. If, however, there’s a chance of rain of frost, promptly move them to a dry location and spread them out on the floor. Allow 2 weeks for curing. Once the skins have tightened and there’s no residual moisture on the leaves or stems, place them in mesh bags or baskets and store away in a cool, dark location. Temperatures between 45-50 degrees F are best for storing onions.