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All about…Broccoli

True story- last December I harvested broccoli, in the snow, for Christmas Eve dinner. It was my second year of broccoli, and I had a lovely, protected area for my vegetable garden, tucked into a corner next to the house. Broccoli loved the sandy soil and took over, seeding itself until I could barely tell which variety was which, and it eventually took over a quarter of the space. We didn’t mind, though, as we love broccoli and eat it at least twice a week- an ounce of broccoli has as much calcium as an ounce of milk. But when I stomped outside in my dress and snow boots, holding a pair of scissors and my colander, I thought it was absolutely crazy that I was harvesting the last of my broccoli in the snow.

I learned was that broccoli is very hardy- it can germinate in temperatures as low as 40°F. If you are direct sowing your broccoli seeds, you can plant your first crop about two weeks before your last spring frost, and then your second crop about 80 days before your first fall frost. Broccoli thrives in full sun and moist, fertile soil with a bit of acidity. Because broccoli loves moisture, mulching is highly recommended; the mulch will also help keep weeds away and keep the soil temperature down. The shallow roots of broccoli mean that, once it’s growing, do not do much cultivating as you can damage the roots. As for harvesting, I was always taught to harvest in the morning, before the soil heats up- my grandma said that made for the best tasting broccoli. I must admit that I usually end up harvesting right before I make dinner, and I don’t notice a difference in the taste. Always harvest broccoli when the buds are firm and tight- before the heads flower. When you harvest the main head, side shoots will continue to form so you can harvest for several weeks from one broccoli plant. Also, store the harvested broccoli in your refrigerator for up to 5 days, or blanch and freeze for up to a year.

Gurney’s carries a lot of broccoli varieties, but one stands out- Gurney’s Choice Coronado Crown Hybrid Broccoli. This particular variety has big, gorgeous, blue-green heads but also sweet stalks- and I normally am not a stalk fan. Because Coronado Choice Crown Hybrid is fairly heat-tolerant, is a great choice for all of our gardeners- North or South.

A new, unique variety Gurney’s is offering is Blue Wind Broccoli. This variety has gorgeous powder-blue foliage and tightly packed heads that continue producing side shoots once harvested. The best part? This variety produces early, ready to harvest in just 49 days from planting, making it a great option for the established gardener who is ready to try something new and have quick, tasty results.

What is your favorite broccoli variety? Or, what is your favorite “I can’t believe I’m harvesting broccoli NOW” story? Blue Wind Broccoli

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All About Beets!

It’s no secret that we love beets in our house. And it’s not just the root- we love the whole beet plant, from root to leaf, and because we use so many beets, I’m thankful that we can get two crops a year. We juice beet roots and beet leaves, sauté the beet greens to have with chicken or pork, and roast the beets to add to salads or sprinkle with feta and a little red onion for a side dish. But by far, adding beet juice to smoothies is my favorite way to use up our beets. Packed with antioxidants, beets also have anti-inflammatory properties, making them a great choice for athletes and active adults.

Beets are a cold weather crop, meaning for most of the growing zones, you can plant your first crop in March or early April when your soil temperature reaches 50° F, with a second crop going in around July or early August. Because beets can survive frost and near-freezing temperatures, they are an excellent choice for Northern gardeners, and can be found at most farmer’s markets in the Midwest all the way into December. In zones 9 and above, you can continue to grow beets all winter long.

Beets do need a bit of care and attention, so growing is not as hands-free as beans. Soil needs to be moist, and once the seeds germinate, they must be thinned (pinch off versus pulling, as pulling can disturb nearby seedlings). Once they are thinned I like to get my kids involved and do a light mulching; beets need soil moisture to get big and sweet. From there, though, we leave the beets alone and do very little because beets have such shallow roots and we don’t want to bother them. Most varieties of beets are mature in 50 to 70 days, and I was always taught to harvest before the greens are above 6 inches. I think this ties into the Old Farmer’s Almanac my grandmother used, and has to do with keeping your beets from getting too large and woody. Check the information on the variety you chose, though, as some beets do have naturally longer greens than others. You can store fresh beets in your fridge for up to a week, or can, pickle, or freeze them for later. One tiny little fun beet fact- besides using them for juicing and eating, beets make an amazing natural dye and are a great indicator of soil pH (beets must have a soil pH above 5 or their growth can be affected).

Gurney’s has a great selection of beets- the best by far is our Perfected Detroit Beet. Uniform, gorgeous color, and sweet as candy, these beauties are ready for harvest 58 days from planting in full sun. Perfect for all of your beet needs- juicing, canning, pickling, eating- this variety likes a neutral soil pH (7) and grows to about 3 inches in diameter.

For a bit of a different beet shape, check out the Forono Beet.  The long, cylindrical shape makes this a great slicing beet, perfect for salads or sautés. This variety has small, sweet tops and will stay soft and juicy even if you have to delay harvesting. Ready for harvest in 60 days, loves full sun, and especially likes a neutral pH and deep, sandy soil, this variety is a great choice if you are ready to venture away from traditional beets such as Harrier and Detroit.

Interested in more beet varieties? Check out Gurney’s selection of beet seed packets and seed tape and let us know what your favorites are, and any tips you have for growing beets in your region!

Perfected Detroit Beets

Perfected Detroit Beets

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All About….Asparagus

For Mother’s Day in 2012 I received ten 1-year old Jersey Knight asparagus plants. I was insanely excited as I love asparagus; but everyone who heard of my gift would say, “You know it takes forever to grow, right?” Sort of. Asparagus takes about two years to really produce an edible, strong crop- so growing asparagus is a lesson in patience. And, to be completely honest, if you do your research, you have a better chance of being a happy asparagus gardener. You do not get the swift satisfaction of planting a pole bean and watching it go from seed to harvest in two months, but you will have the joy of eating a delicious batch of freshly steamed asparagus from your own yard if you choose your variety carefully, plant it in just the right amount of sunlight, and order your starts from a reputable nursery that sells disease-free roots, such as Gurney’s.

Jersey Knight Hybrid Asparagus

Jersey Knight Hybrid Asparagus

Asparagus can be grown from seed, but because it takes so long to get from seed to harvest (two to three years) many people choose to order one year old root crowns to start their asparagus garden. Because your asparagus plants are perennial, they will occupy a spot in your garden for up to 20 years- so choose your spot with care. Full sun will give you the best results, but asparagus can tolerate some shade. Lighter soils that drain fast and warm up quickly in spring; any very wet soils or standing water will rot the roots. Because asparagus plants are monoecious (each individual plant is either male or female), you might want to consider choosing a variety that is either all male plants or mainly male plants. Male asparagus plants yield more harvestable shoots because they do not put their energy into producing seeds. Try Gurney’s Jersey Supreme Hybrid Asparagus or Jersey Knight Hybrid Asparagus; both are all-male, high yield varieties. For something a little different, especially if you are gardening with kids or grandkids, choose Purple Passion Asparagus. The stalks are larger and sweeter-tasting than most varieties and the purple color is intriguing (stalks will turn green when cooked).

No matter which variety you choose, keep in mind that patience is key- but do not just plant, sit back, and wait two years. Asparagus plants need care, so keep the area weed free and feed your plants. One option is Gurney’s Asparagus Food which releases nutrients as plants need them-  meaning no artificial growth spurts. The food should be applied in spring and then again after the harvest. Asparagus will thrive in almost any zone that has a winter ground freeze or dry seasons; the exception being Florida and the Gulf Coast. And while yes, growing asparagus is a lesson in patience, if you put in the time and tend to your plants for the first two years, you and your family will be enjoying asparagus for many years to come.

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All About Beans!

Often the very first plants many of us grow from seeds are beans. Preschoolers carefully plant them and water them, toddling home with little cups filled with soil and a small bean shoot. In middle school, when science teachers explain germination to their students, everyone gets a bean seed and places it in a wet paper towel and sets it on a window ledge to watch, and track, the germination process. Why beans? Of all of the plants, they are truly the easiest to grow from seed with very little care, making them an ideal plant for gardeners of all ages.

All beans are legumes which add nitrogen to the soil, making them a necessary part of your yearly vegetable garden. There are two groups of beans- shell beans, which are grown for their seeds, and snap beans, which are grown for their edible pods. Those two groups are then broken down into four groups, based on their growing habits: bush beans (self-supporting), pole beans (vines that need support), runner beans (like pole beans but need cool conditions), and half-runners (somewhere between bush and pole in support needs). Because there are so many beans, it’s important to do a little research and figure out which beans will grow best in your region. I like to flip through my seed catalogs, ask neighbors, friends, and especially regulars at my local garden center. Often times you’ll get advice about which beans grow best or, if you are lucky, get a few seeds to try from someone’s collection. Thanks to the wide variety of beans available, there is truly a bean for every garden, no matter the size, and every gardener, no matter their experience level- here are a few of my bean picks for the upcoming year:

Blue Lake Pole Beans - A Gurney’s Choice for good reason- these beans are easy to grow and fast (63 days from seed to harvest). Lots of seeds and lots of beans, this is a great bean for a beginning gardener who wants to see results and not spend a ton of time tending the plants, or a great introduction to vegetable gardening for kids or grandkids, who will have fun harvesting the beans. These are also great for canning. Be sure to get some kind of support, like a pole bean tower or vegetable trellis.

Improved Golden Wax Bush Beans Another Gurney’s Choice, this bean is perfect for the gardener with a small space as it has a very minimal spread, only grows 18 inches high, and still gives high yields. A fast grower, just 50 days from seed to harvest, these big buttery-flavored beans are stringless, delicious and good for canning.

Roma II Bush Beans - These flat broad beans can grow up to six inches long and still maintain their full flavor. Perfect for those looking for something a little different, working in a compact space; these reach maturity in 59 days. Flavor and color do not fade with processing, making this bean a great option for those who enjoy home preserving.

Purple Pod Pole Beans - For something absolutely gorgeous and delicious, plant these in your garden- even better yet, use them as a way to add vegetables to your existing perennial gardens, as the leaves are beautiful and the blooms are pink before the deep purple pods emerge. 67 days from seeds to harvest and would benefit from a structure to twine around- perhaps an archway, fence, or bean trellis.

No matter which bean you choose, you are sure to have success with this easy-to-grow vegetable. Check out Gurney’s for all of your bean planting needs- vegetable trellis, bean tower, and of course, Gurney’s Vegetable Food.

Purple Pole Beans

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Wow Fruit Now™- A Great Shortcut

I’m a huge fan of fruit- specifically berries. I grew up spending summers in northern Michigan, and my time was split into three seasons: strawberry season, raspberry season, and cherry season. We picked all of our fruit- flats of berries and buckets of cherries- then we preserved the harvest. I assumed all kids grew up pitting cherries for hours, and was always surprised when I came home and no one really understood the varieties of berries and cherries I was yammering about, or appreciated the new scar on my knee from climbing the trees to grab the sour cherries before the cannon went off to scare birds. As an adult I toyed with the idea of planting black raspberries when we lived in a small southern Ohio town. My uncle gave me some starts, and I planted them, watered, mulched- and when we moved two years later, I still had no berries. That can be the frustrating part of growing your own fruit- the waiting. But there is a shortcut- Gurney’s Wow Fruit Now™.

Imagine growing fruit with almost instant gratification. Seems impossible, but Gurney’s has five varieties that you can plant in spring and harvest by fall – the first year. That quick turn around the first year makes Wow Fruit Now™ a good choice for anyone who is gardening with kids or grandkids, new gardeners, or someone just starting a new garden in a previously unused area of their yard.

Wow Fruit Now™ features a 5″ Quick-Pro Pot. This provides an excellent root system for your fruit plant, and allows for the development of extra feeder roots for a quick start. Wow Fruit Now also has a trained fruit production leader which is not available on normal bareroot grades- which helps your plant bear fruit in record time.

Gurney’s currently offers Wow Fruit Now™ as an option when ordering Tickled Pink Grapes, Black Magic Blackberry, Heaven can Wait Blackberry, Ouachita Blackberry, and Triple Crown Blackberry. Myself, I’d opt for a blackberry as my kids love eating them, and I enjoy using them for jam. A few of these along the fence at the back edge of my yard would be perfect, and that instant gratification is a huge lure. Plant in spring, harvest in fall? Yes, please! The problem will be which variety to choose. Of course, regular bareroot varieties are available for those fruits, but if I can use a shortcut, especially one with proven results, I’m going for it. So much of gardening involves patience, and I never have enough patience to go around.

Thinking about adding one of Gurney’s Wow Fruit Now™ varieties to your garden? Which one? Let us know in the comments!Wow Fruit Now! Triple Crown Blackberries

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Gardening with Kids

Bean TeepeeI have a little picture on my office desk of my oldest daughter many years ago, standing in her little blue rain boots, picking green beans from her bean plant. The photo was taken in our garden, a privacy-fenced oasis behind our house. She had a playhouse, and next to it, three large containers where we planted green beans, cucumbers, and yellow pear tomatoes. I remember the day we picked the beans, and how she would not stop picking them, even when it started drizzling. By the time the tomato plant was covered in hundreds of little ripe yellow pear tomatoes, she had lost interest- and I was out there harvesting by myself while she stayed cool in the shade of her playhouse and made me tea. What I learned that summer was how easy it was to get her interested in gardening- but she didn’t quite have the patience to wait for tomatoes, or the willpower to harvest them in the heat of summer. But beans? They certainly grew fast, she could easily track their fast progress, and she was more than happy to stand in the rain in her boots and pick away.

It is no secret that children and grandchildren today spend more time indoors – so how do we get our kids- and grandkids- back outside, hands in the dirt, and smelling like sunshine? Gurney’s has a few tricks up our sleeves that should help you, and the little ones in your life, get a bit of a green thumb this season.

Gardening=Food

This seems easy, kids should understand that their food comes from the ground. Getting kids to make the connection between food and food source is not just essential to teaching them about the world- it’s an essential part of teaching good nutrition. Having them plant and raise their own vegetables also exposes children to a wider range of fruits and veggies that they may have never tried before. Celery, most kids have heard of. But celery root? It’s actually quite delicious (though not very pretty). Work with your kids or grandkids to plant a food garden just for them to tend (and then have the patience to not step in and tend it if they forget a day or ten). They will learn patience along with a little science (water cycle, photosynthesis), and you can all feast on the fruits of their labor. Try: Sugarsnax carrot, Bright Lights Chard, Henry Field’s Buttery Lettuce Blend, Honey Bunch Tomato, and Now or Later Pea.

Gardening=Nature
Young Carrot Gardener

One of the easiest ways to introduce kids to gardening is to plan a beneficial bee, bird, and butterfly garden. Not only are these gardens gorgeous to look at, but they will attract a wide variety of songbirds and butterflies for to identify and learn about. Some metroparks also have butterfly release programs, so ask them which plants they encourage area residents to plant to help attract local butterflies. This project requires some planning,  so make it fun; have your kids or grandkids do a little research on what birds and butterflies live in your area and what plants will attract them. Try: Gurney’s Hummingbird and Butterfly Annual Garden.  Lots of gorgeous blooms, from Scarlet Flax to California Poppies, will bloom from direct-sown seeds.

Gardening=Fun

Think outside the box, or lines, of traditional gardening. Want to pique your children’s interest? Construct the frame for a fort and let several varieties of bean plants cover it. Work together with old pots and construct a tower garden filled with lettuces, paint rain barrels and then research and design a rain garden with them. Children are full of amazing ideas- give them their own plot of land and let them pick and choose what to plant. Will everything be a success? No, and that is part of gardening, learning that a shade plant won’t do well in full sun, and that some plants have different watering requirements. Try:  Dill’s Atlantic Giant Pumpkin, American Giant Sunflower, and Speckled Calico Pole Lima Beans, these giants of the garden will make for big fun throughout the season.

Share your gardening adventures with your kids- and grandkids- with us in the comments section. Maybe something that went really well- or the opposite of well (sometimes those accidents make the best stories). tiny hoe

 

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Companion Planting – Better Together!

I’d like to share an early gardening memory with you. My grandfather loved homegrown tomatoes, and every summer he had some growing in the backyard of their house in Ohio. I remember standing there, late one May, as he planted a row of marigolds along the edges of his tomato garden. “Keeps the rabbits out,” he said. I was confused- beyond not understanding why rabbits were bad (I would learn that much later when I had my own house and garden), I didn’t understand how a flower could deter any animals or insects.

We’ve all grown up with the folklore of companion planting, and some of us still plant things together without really knowing why. Tomatoes and basil go in a giant pot on my back patio every May- but did you know basil supposedly makes tomatoes taste better and helps repel mosquitoes and flies? I didn’t. I just like the two of them together, and we’ve always planted them that way. I considered companion planting two seasons ago, as I was planning my summer garden. I researched which plants could help each other, but as I did my research, I quickly learned that while some plants help each other, others can harm each other. For example, if you plant tomatoes and peppers next to each other (and I did, for years), both attract tomato hornworm, so you’ve basically set up a buffet for those nasty little worms- and they are very tough to get rid of.

As I did my research, I found that it can be very easy to incorporate companion planting into your gardening, and I was going about it the wrong way. One thing to try is mixing your plants together. It certainly isn’t what we see in so many of today’s planned landscapes, but take a stroll through a metro park, or drive past a country meadow, and you see that nature does companion planting the best way- naturally. Instead of planting your lettuce in neat rows, basically inviting pests to chow on through, interplant the lettuce with other veggies in order to deter the pests, or at least slow their progress. You can also plant herbs and flowers that lure pests away- something tastier for the pests to eat as a distraction, such as nasturtiums. A quick internet search will help you find a list of what plants go well together, and which ones do not. Companion planting alone is not going to solve the pest issues of your garden. As always, a healthy garden relies on good soil, mulching, weeding, and paying careful attention to your plants as they grow and watching for any signs of pest damage. Let us know if you have a particular companion planting that works in your yard, or one that was an experiment gone wrong- we’d love to read your stories!

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Square Foot Gardening

Forget rows- it’s time to get square!

For many of us, planting a vegetable garden is habit, a process passed down from grandparents or even aunts and uncles long ago. My first memories of a large, tidy vegetable garden involve me peeping though chicken wire that was taller than my head at rows of melons, beans, tomatoes, and cabbage. Long rows of homegrown vegetables and herbs were guarded by a homemade scarecrow along with assorted plastic owls standing sentry on the corner posts. But what if, instead of planting in long rows- and spending hours weeding between rows- we instead planted in squares?

That’s the driving force behind Square Foot Planting, which began in 1981 and has now evolved to include a foundation and a mission- to get more families eating plant based diets. Goodness knows my kids are not fans of weeding, and by late summer I’m out there by myself stepping on squished tomatoes and trying to wrestle with whatever giant weed is spanning two rows, preventing the water from reaching my poor carrots. For square foot gardening, instead of rows, you build a raised 4×4 box. Seems simple enough, right? Start with your square, and place it on top of landscape fabric or mulch to prevent weeds from growing into your garden. The Square Foot Gardening Foundation (www.squarefootgardening.org) has an excellent how-to guide available, including their best bet formula for successful soil (a ratio of vermiculite, peat moss, and compost). Once you fill your square raised-bed garden with soil, you then add a grid, essentially splitting your big square into little squares. Then plant your seeds or transplant your seedlings.

This type of gardening is excellent for those new to vegetable gardening, or families wanting kids to get involved with growing their own food. I’ve seen it used on military bases, where gardening space is low among base housing, but a huge grow-your-own-food movement is happening. There are two keys to success here- one, use the right soil; and two, make sure you follow the directions on sowing the seeds, and do not plant too many in a single grid. All seed packets come with sowing directions, so pay close attention. One idea is to plant a few square foot gardens and make them each themed- one could be just for salsa, a great place to plant seeds from Gurney’s Salsa Collection. Or devote a grid just to salad ingredients and try Gurney’s Lettuce Blend Packets mixed with French Breakfast Radishes , Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach, and Orange You Sweet Hybrid Peppers. Anything goes with your square foot garden- just plan accordingly, prep your soil well, read your seed packets, and get ready to enjoy weed-free gardening and, most importantly, a variety of vegetables fresh from your yard to your table.

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Seed Starting with Gurney’s

As the first snows dust the ground and I pull the last of my harvest from the ground- a stray turnip here, the last bits of the herbs I brought indoors there- my mind always turns to spring planting. Seed catalogs arrive and I grab my garden planning notebook, to begin sketching  out my rows for next year -  dreaming of carrots and snap peas and romas. The reality, though, is that my winter seed purchases and garden dreams always end up the same way- sad, stray seedlings, some never sprouting, few surviving long enough to be transplanted outside.  Starting seeds should be easy- plant seed, water seed, transplant seed.

How can I make this entire process easier on myself? True, I could just buy the plants. But when those catalogs are in my hands and the Seed Startingsnow is blanketing the ground, I really do love the idea of starting from scratch, with the tiny seeds in their neatly organized packets sitting on my counter, waiting for me to add the right ingredients. And in the last months of a long Midwest winter, the sight of those green seedlings and the smell of the dirt as they sit on a sunny windowsill is a promise that sunshine and warm days are just around the corner. This year it’s time to buy the  tools to make my seed starting easier, less messy, and more successful.

Seed starting is not hard and is something even the new gardener can do. Gurney’s has a great how-to guide online, and offers products to make the seed starting process more successful and more enjoyable.

Gurney’s Seed Starting Kit

Make your life a lot easier and let Gurney’s do the work for you. Humidity dome, grow plugs, tray, water reservoir, seedling boost fertilizer- everything you need for growing success. Offered in a variety of sizes, choose which one is best for you.

Make your life a lot easier and let Gurney’s do the work for you. Humidity dome, grow plugs, tray, water reservoir, seedling boost fertilizer- everything you need for growing success. Offered in a variety of sizes, choose which one is best for you.

Square and Round Peat Pots  and Seed Starting Mix

Avoid transplant shock and start your seeds in these handy peat pots. Fill them with Gurney’s Seed Starting Mix, which is made with coconut fibers to retain more moisture than most mixes which are peat based. This is a no-mess option, allowing for a very easy transplant- just bury the entire pot!

Seedling Heat Mat Starter

Speed up germination and your growing process by going a little high-tech! The heat mat warms the roots 10 to 20 degrees higher than room temperature, which speeds growth and germination- so if you happen to get a late start, or maybe have a really warm spring, this tool will help shorten your inside grow time significantly.

Now is a good time to get organized for seed starting- order your seeds, pull out your 2014 calendar, check your packets for information and plan your planting waves for spring. And with the holidays looming, maybe stick a few of these tools on your list for Santa- with the promise of carrots for his reindeer next December to sweeten the deal.

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Fall Gardening Reflections

Thanksgiving, for many of us gardeners, is  a time to enjoy the last fruits of our harvest. Squash, beets, broccoli are all done and our gardens are ready for a long winter’s nap. As I look back on this fall’s harvest, I want to make sure I take a few notes and share with you some things I hope to remember for next year.

Direct Sown Tomatoes

Each spring there is a rush to start my tomatoes inside, neat little rows of seedlings that I transplant outside once we are past first frost. I love the taste of those first tomatoes, but this season in July I did some direct sowing of Sun Gold tomatoes. This was my first time direct sowing tomatoes so late in the season, and with the lateness came a little extra care. Due to the lack of water many of us experience in the Midwest in late summer, I made sure my tomatoes got weekly water with a soaker hose placed along the rows. Soaker hoses use less water than overhead sprinklers, get the water exactly where you want it to go, and discourage weeds from forming in between rows due to lack of water (which means less pulling weeds for me!). Amazingly I did get a pretty full harvest and my plants had an 8 foot spread- but I know if I had direct sown a month earlier in June my harvest would have been even bigger- something to keep in mind if I want to can tomatoes next year or make sauces. But these tomatoes were purely grown for eating and I had plenty without the work of starting seeds inside and transplanting.

Lesson Learned: Tomatoes love the sun and heat, so direct sow them in June for best results and water weekly to keep them happy.

Envy Carrots

Each year my kids get excited by pretty packets of carrots. We eat a ton of carrots here, so I always  plant my own. But come August I’m pulling up tiny carrots or worse- I wait and wait for them to grow, only to find them eaten by the bunnies and my garden is overrun with furry friends.

This year Niles, Gurney’s owner and an amazing gardener, recommended Envy Carrots, his personal favorite. Why? Whatever soil you have- even clay- they will do well. Long, straight roots, excellent taste- what’s not to love? And the carrots look pretty when you pull them from the ground, perhaps even enticing your picky grandchildren to do a little gardening and a little vegetable eating. Envy carrots can be a spring or fall crop- or plant them in both seasons. For our fall crop, we sowed the seeds in July (zones 5/6) for a fall harvest- and these are definitely going in the same time next year.

Lesson Learned: Plant Envy carrots; water, weed, repeat; and then in the fall, eat!

What lessons did you learn from your fall harvest? What reflections are you carrying through to next growing season? And what plans are you already making for your spring garden?

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