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Eggplant Gardening

Eggplant Gardening

Eggplant gardening growing black beauty

Eggplant, Solanum melongena, is a perennial from the nightshade family, Solanaceae, and is cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates throughout the world. It comes from the same family as potatoes, tomatoes, and several other poisonous nightshades. Eggplant is native to Southeast Asia and a staple in Mediterranean cuisine since ancient times. It’s typically grown as an annual and can reach a height of 1.5 m, giving large, slightly lobed leaves and purple flowers. The fruit is a large, egg-shaped deep purple berry with smooth skin and several small seeds. Though the fruit, commonly consumed as a vegetable, is typically purple, you can also find it in other colors.

Types & Varieties of Eggplant

Other than the large, oblong, purple eggplants you find in grocery stores, there are several other varieties too. They come in unique shapes and colors. Besides the deep purple color that you’re familiar with, red, pink, yellowish, and white eggplants also exist.

Common Varieties of Eggplant:

Black BeautyThe variety matures in 72 to 85 days, producing large, oval fruits with purplish-black skin that hold color and texture well after being harvested. It’s an heirloom variety that grows up to 24 to 30 inches tall, bearing 4 to 6 fruits per plant.

Little Fingers – Maturing in as little as 68 days, this variety bears slim, 4 to 6 inches long fruits with glossy dark purple skin and a sweet, delicate flavor.

Easter Egg – Maturing in 52 to 65 days, it bears small, white fruits in the shape and size of an egg.

Hansel – Harvested in about 55 days, this cultivar produces long, thin purple fruits that appear in clusters on the branches. It’s best picked when the fruits are just about 3 inches long, though they can grow up to 10 inches long when fully mature.

For a self-sufficient garden, grow 1 to 2 eggplant plants per person, spacing them 24 to 30 inches apart in rows that are at least 3 feet apart.

Temperature and Timing for Growing Eggplant

Eggplant is a warm-weather crop and requires at least 5 months of warm temperatures for proper fruit development. The ideal temperatures to grow eggplant lie between 70 and 85°F. If the weather is cooler, the growth will slow down. They’re typically grown as a spring crop, so they can grow through the warm summers.

Sun Exposure and Soil Requirements

Eggplant grows best in full sun. Make sure they receive at least 6 hours of undisturbed sunlight each day. If you have a spot that receives more sunlight, that’s even better.

Sandy loam or loam soil is best for eggplant. Make sure it’s well-drained, rich in organic matter, and has a pH between 5.8 and 6.5 for optimal growth.

How to Plant Eggplant

Eggplant gardening starts with planting the seeds indoors 8 to 9 weeks before the last spring frost. Start the seeds in seedling trays or peat pots filled with a good seed starting mix. Set the seeds ¼ inch deep in the soil and spray the soil with water to moisten it. Place the pots over a heating mat, making sure the temperature is between 75 to 85°F for optimal germination.

eggplant flowers

Seedlings will sprout in a week or two. As soon as you see sprouting, place the pot at a window that receives plenty of sunlight. Thin the seedlings to 2 to 3 inches apart once they have at least two sets of leaves.

Wait until after the last frost of the spring to transplant the seedlings outdoors. Outdoor temperatures should be consistently above 50°F when you plan on transplanting the seedlings into the garden. Amend the garden soil with lots of organic matter before planting the seedlings.

Harden off the seedlings in about a week before you set them in the garden bed permanently. If you want to skip starting the seeds indoors, you can purchase 6 to 8-weeks old transplants from the nursery right before planting in the garden.

Space the transplants 24 to 30 inches apart in rows spaced 3-feet apart. Stake the plants at the time of planting, so the plants have support as they grow and the soil isn’t disturbed during the growing season.

Once transplanted in the garden, make sure they receive consistent moisture, offering about an inch of watering per week, including rainfall. Mulch the soil to keep the weeds down and retain soil moisture.

Fertilize twice during the growing season using a balanced formula. Sidedress the plants with fertilizer once when the fruits are about an inch in diameter and a second time two weeks later.

Harvest

After a successful eggplant gardening season, you can look forward to an impressive harvest. Here’s how to pick eggplant:

  • Depending on the variety, eggplant takes about 65 to 80 days to reach maturity after transplanting. Depending on the climate you live in, your eggplant can come to harvest anywhere between July to September. Begin harvesting eggplant when the fruits reach full size and pressing firmly produces a thumbprint that bounces back quickly. Under-ripe eggplants are too hard to take a thumbprint, and overripe ones are so soft that a thumbprint leaves a permanent bruise.
  • Eggplant is best harvested while the fruits are still young. Smaller fruits have a tender flavor and texture. Also, picking the fruits timely promotes the development of new fruits, and your plants will be more productive.
  • To pick eggplant, cut it off the stem with shears or scissors, leaving about an inch of the stem attached. Pulling them off by hand may damage the plant.

Storing

Eggplant doesn’t store well. It’s best eaten fresh. If you can’t use freshly picked eggplant right away, store it in the fridge and use it within a week. Store it without washing or cutting since it quickly spoils if the flesh is exposed.

Eggplant can be pickled if you want to store it for longer. Besides pickling, there aren’t many preservation techniques that will work well for eggplant.

At our home my wife will cut and fry excess eggplant and freeze for future use in eggplant parmesan or rollatini recipes. The fried pieces do store well for several months.

Pests and Diseases

Pests

  • Aphids are tiny soft-bodied insects, often found on the underside of the leaves and stems of the plant. As they feed on the plants, they secrete a sticky substance called honeydew that promotes the growth of dark, sooty mold on the plants, inhibiting their ability to photosynthesize. Hose them off with a strong spray of water, or introduce beneficial insects, such as lacewings and ladybugs, that feed on aphids. Alternatively, you can spray insecticidal soap on the infested plants. 
  • Flea Beetles are a common problem eggplant growers experience, these happen to be the bane of my garden life. They feed on the leaves, leaving small holes on the surface. Their larvae grow in the soil and certain species will eat roots. Established plants can generally tolerate a fair amount of damage by flea beetles without showing any effect on yield, but seedlings are more susceptible to damage. Place row covers over them until they are bigger.
  • Colorado potato beetles feed on the leaves of eggplant, causing significant defoliation and loss of yield if the population builds. You can handpick the adults and larvae and destroy them with soapy water. Chemical control may be necessary for severe infestations.

Diseases

  • Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that can affect eggplant. It appears as powdery, white spots on the leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits. The leaves will turn yellow and twisted and eventually drop. You can prevent the problem by planting resistant varieties and ensuring adequate spacing to allow ample air circulation between the plants.
  • Blossom end rot is a common disease with eggplant gardening, just as it is with tomatoes. It affects ripe fruits and appears as dark sunken spots on the blossom ends of the fruits. Avoid over-fertilizing and over-watering to prevent the problem.
  • Verticillium wilt kills more eggplants than any other disease. Ensure good drainage and warm soil to discourage this soilborne fungus, which causes plants to wilt and eventually collapse, often with yellowing between the leaf veins.
  • Tobacco Mosaic Virus – Young growth is malformed and leaves are mottled with yellow. To prevent it, wash hands after handling tobacco before touching plants. Control aphids, which spread the disease.

Saving Eggplant Seeds

Heirloom eggplants are open pollinating, so saving seeds is easy. Choose over-ripe fruit from strong plants (take seeds from as least 2 different plant). To remove the ripe seeds, cut off the bottom end of the fruit and pick out the seeds. Dry the seeds at room temperature for about two weeks. Under good storage conditions, eggplant seeds will remain viable for five years.

That’s all there is to eggplant gardening. Hope you have a successful eggplant gardening season and enjoy picking loads of homegrown eggplant for your recipes.

Garlic Gardening Made Simple

Garlic Gardening Made Simple

raising healthy plants by reading this blog on garlic gardening

Garlic is often thought of as an herb but botanically it’s a vegetable. Few people think about garlic gardening, sticking instead with the normal garden vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, but it’s an easy-to-grow vegetable that pairs well with many other foods.

Even in the garden garlic pairs wells as a companion plant that provides pest protection and enhances vegetable flavor. Tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and cabbage benefit from having garlic planted near them in the garden and will benefit the second time when paired with fresh garlic in a recipe.

Use these tips to successfully grow garlic in your home garden.

Native Garlic

Garlic, (Allium sativum) is native to Asia but grows as a wild plant in Italy and parts of France. It’s a perennial plant that has an edible bulb with a distinct aroma and flavor. Garlic is a flavor-filled vegetable that has found its way into recipes all across the world and is closely related to the onion and leek.

Everyone knows that eating garlic will leave behind a lingering odor in the mouth but eating it also provides health benefits. Compounds in garlic are said to reduce blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, reduce bronchitis symptoms, and provide several other health benefits.

Enhance the flavor of your food while improving your health by adding a little garlic to your meals.

Types Of Garlic

* Soft-necked garlic is the most common type and is typically sold in all supermarkets. The soft-necked type is divided into two categories – artichoke and silverskin.

* Artichoke garlic has multiple layers, like an artichoke, that overlap and will contain 15-20 cloves. This type has a thick, white outer layer and will remain fresh for up to 8-months when stored properly.

Applegate, Polish Red, Early Red Italian, Italian Late, and Galiano are a few of the artichoke garlic varieties.

* Silverskin garlic is the easiest to grow in a home garden and is an abundant-producing variety. Polish White, Chet’s Italian Red, and Kettle River Giant are the most common types of silverskins.

* Hard-necked garlic has large cloves with intense flavor and is easy to peel. The most common types of hard-necked garlic include Chesnok Red, German White, Purple Stripe, Persian Star, and Porcelain.

Because garlic is grown worldwide and each region has developed its’ own strain of garlic, there is not a ‘true’ garlic that will look and taste the same everywhere in the world.  While garlic gardening, experiment with different garlic types in the garden so you can discover which ones grow best in your climate and which ones have the flavor you prefer.

When To Plant Garlic

Garlic cloves are planted in the middle of fall (autumn) when all other garden plants have finished their growing season. Garlic is ‘put to bed’ for the winter because it needs a season of cold temperatures, “stratification” to grow.

Before the soil freezes but after it has cooled down significantly, is the ideal time to plant garlic. The cloves will need 3-6 weeks before the soil freezes to develop a root system.

Sun and Soil Requirements

Garlic prefers a spot in the sun so select a growing location that will be in full sun. There are no leaves in late autumn on most of the trees to block the sun but bear in mind the sun’s patterns changes during the winter and a sunny summer location might now be in full sun during the winter.

Well-draining soil that is fertile and crumbly is best for garlic gardening. Incorporating plenty of compost into the soil before planting will provide nutrients to the garlic, promote good drainage, and help keep the soil from compacting during the winter.

How To Plant Garlic

Garlic gardening

Each garlic plant is comprised of multiple cloves. You want to plant individual cloves so gently break apart the garlic bulb into separate cloves and place the root-side of each clove facing down in the planting row, when they grow, they will form new bulbs. Plant the cloves in mid-fall when the soil is still slightly warm. Create rows that are 12-inches apart and 2-inches deep. Space the cloves 6-inches apart.

Place 1-inch of soil on top of the cloves followed by 1-inch of mulch. Water thoroughly.

Leave the garlic alone during the winter and as soon as the soil warms up in spring the cloves will begin to grow green tops that resemble the top of an onion.

Now a garlic gardening tip, as the garlic grows, it will send out stalks that will have flower heads. These are called scapes. Let these grow for a bit. They can become quite beautiful. Often times these flower stalks wrap around. As they begin wrapping, cut the scapes off. If you leave them on the energy will go to the flower – you want all energy at this point directed at growing the bulbs. The scapes are quite edible.

Harvesting Garlic

When the lower leaves of the green stalk begin to turn brown the garlic bulb is ready to harvest.

To test for ripeness, dig up just one bulb to see if it has filled out its’ skin. Bulbs harvested when the skin appears to be baggy will result in smaller garlic bulbs and a milder flavor.

Use a shovel to dig down 4-inches behind the stalk, then lift up on the shovel to remove soil and bulb together. Do not pull up by the stalk. Gently brush the soil from the garlic bulb but do not wash before storing.

Storing Garlic

Lay freshly harvested garlic on a table in a single layer in a dry, dark location that has plenty of air circulation for 7-days. This will allow the skin to dry and begin to toughen. After the initial 7-days, the bulbs will need to be stored long-term in a cool, dry, dark location that has plenty of air circulation.

Light and moisture will promote the development of mold on the harvested bulbs. Keep them in the dark, keep them dry, and keep the air circulating around them.

Pests and Diseases

Pests

Bulb mites, leafminers, thrips, onion maggots, and nematodes are pests that enjoy eating garlic bulbs. Create a tea of 1-teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes and 1-cup of hot water. After the water cools, pour it onto the soil around the garlic to repel most of the pests that attack the bulbs.

Diseases
The plants are susceptible to several diseases, including White Rot, Basal Rot, Rust, Penicillian Decay, and Downy Mildew. Certain disease can be treated and stopped by removing the affected leaves, however, more serious diseases like White Rot will require the garlic plant to be removed from the soil and burned. The soil will need to be removed to prevent the spread of the diseases also.

Asparagus Gardening

Asparagus Gardening

Asparagus Gardening, Asparagus officinalis, is a perennial vegetable crop that’s among the first ones to come to harvest with the onset of spring. It’s a flowering plant species belonging to the family Asparagaceae. It’s cultivated as a vegetable in most temperate and subtropical climates of the world for the succulent stalks that appear in spring. Asparagus is typically served cooked in stir fries, vegetable side dishes, soups, stews and salads. Besides being a good source of dietary fibers, asparagus is also rich in Vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium and zinc. It’s typically planted in early spring from roots or crowns and takes about 2 to 3 years to establish and start producing a decent harvest. However, once established, an asparagus crop can be productive for over 20 years!

Types & Varieties of Asparagus

Different Asparagus varieties exist, with distinct differences in colors, appearance and quality of spears. Asparagus plants can be either male or female. The newer cultivars are bred to be all male since the plants consume all their energies into the development of the plant instead of seed production, giving you larger and more abundant spears.

Common varieties of Asparagus:

Mary Washington – The most common asparagus variety is an heirloom and is a favorite among gardeners for the long green spears with purple tips that it produces. It’s rust-resistant and is ready for light cuttings in 2 years.

asparagus spear from 2nd year plant

Jersey GiantIt is an all-male early yielding variety that’s bred for rust and fusarium wilt resistance and is cold hardy so it will perform exceptionally well in northern climates.   

Purple Passion – As the name implies, this variety produces purple spears, but the color fades with cooking. The attractive spears are sweet in flavor ready for harvest around April to May each year.

Apollo – this is a hardy asparagus that grows well in both cold and warm climates. It’s very disease resistant and yields a large crop with medium to large dark green sized stalks with a hint of purple on the tips.

Depending on how often you consume the vegetable, plant a garden with around 5 to 20 asparagus plants for every person. Since individual plants are spaced 3 feet apart, this makes about 12 to 60 feet of row for each family member.

Temperature and Timing for growing Asparagus

Asparagus are perennial vegetables that prefer a temperature between 70 to 85°F at daytime and the nighttime temperature should be between 60 to 70°F. Asparagus crowns are usually planted in spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Each year, young, tender shoots will appear in spring as soon as the soil temperature stays above 50°F in spring.

Sun Exposure and Soil Requirements

Asparagus plants grow best in full sun to develop healthy, thick spears. Without adequate sunlight, you’ll find thin, weak spears and the plants are more prone to diseases. Choose a well-drained garden bed for your garden and amend the soil with plenty of organic matter and remove weeds and stones from the area to prepare the land for a perennial vegetable that will stay in place and provide you with succulent spears for years to come.

How to Plant Asparagus

Asparagus can be grown from 1-year old crowns or seeds. Most gardeners prefer growing crowns since it gives a jump-start on the crop, eliminating some of the wait time before you can start harvesting the spears.

When growing from seeds, seeds are started indoors in early spring. Plant the seeds in a good seed starting mix filled in peat cups. Seedlings are transplanted outdoors once they are at least 12 weeks old and the last spring frost has passed.

By the fall, the plants will mature and you’ll be able to tell apart the berry-less male plants from the female ones. You can remove the female plants since they are less productive and allow more space for male ones to grow.

To plant crowns in the garden, prepare the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches, removing any hard stones or weeds that you find along the way. Amend the soil with 2 to 4 inches of compost and other organic matter.

Dig 12 inches wide and 6 inches deep trenches into the ground, spaced 3 inches apart from each other. Next, create a 2-inch tall ridge of soil along the center of the trench and place the crown over the mounds, spacing them 12 to 18 inches apart. Add about 2 inches of soil to the trench to cover 2 inches of the crown from the bottom. As the crowns grow taller, add more soil to the trench, 2 inches at a time until it reaches ground level.

Once the trench is filled with soil, add mulch to prevent weeds from taking over. During the first two years of growth, offer the crop 1 to 2 inches of water each week. Since asparagus is a heavy feeder, it will also need regular nourishment to keep up production. When asparagus gardening, top dress annually with compost before shoots start appearing in spring and fertilize with an organic fertilizer around mid spring when the growth is at its maximum.

Harvest

Generally, you should wait until the third year to start harvesting the spears.

  • During the third year, only harvest a few spears for two weeks at the most and let the remaining spears develop undisturbed.
  • During the fourth year, you can harvest spears that reach 5 to 7 inches in height by cutting them with a knife just above the soil level. You can harvest for up to three weeks.
  • During the fifth year, the harvest time can extend up to six weeks.
  • Following the fifth year, you can continue harvesting the spears all through the spring, as they appear from the soil.

Storing

Asparagus spears don’t do well in storage and are best consumed fresh, within two to three days from harvest. Wash the spears with cold water and dry them before storing. Bundle the stems, wrapping them lightly with a paper towel and store them in a plastic bag before refrigerating.

Pests and Diseases

Pests

  • Asparagus beetles are a common problem with this vegetable. The insects cause spears to turn brown, ultimately defoliating the crop and diminishing harvest. Remove the beetles by hand or hose them with a strong spray of water.
  • Cutworms attack the stems of young shoots, cutting them just above the soil level. Keeping the area weed-free and removing plant debris can prevent these from finding your crop. Remove them by hand as you find them.

Diseases

  • Asparagus Rust is a fungal disease that shows up as pale green spots on newly emerged shoots. By summer, they turn into reddish brown lesions and then black by fall. Severe infection can cause defoliation. Choosing resistant varieties, ensuring air circulation and preventing excessive moisture in the soil can help prevent the infection.

Follow the guide above and you’ll have fresh, crunchy spears to harvest in just a couple of years – homegrown asparagus are worth the wait!

Tomatillo Gardening

Tomatillo Gardening

Tomatillo Gardening  is a warm season vegetable that’s planted outdoors once all dangers of frost have passed in spring,

Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa), or Mexican husk tomato, are members of the nightshade family, grown for their small, green or purple fruits. The fruits closely resemble unripe tomatoes in their appearance with a leafy husk that wraps the outside, hence the name. Tomatillos originated in Mexico and are a staple of Mexican cuisine to this day. They are consumed raw or added to soups, sauces, salsa, and jam. It’s a perennial plant in southern climates, usually grown as an annual vegetable that grows up to 3.3 feet tall. Tomatillo thrives in warm climates and are very sensitive to frost.

Types & Varieties of Tomatillo

Tomatillo is an excellent source of fiber. It’s rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and niacin. Several different varieties exist, with some differences in the size and flavor of the fruit. Some types give green or yellow colored fruits while some are purple.

Common varieties of Tomatillo:

  • Cisineros It’s a very productive variety that matures in 85 days and produces large green fruits, up to 2.5 inches in diameter. They have a sweet, fruity flavor and work great in salsa and sauces.
  • Pineapple – It’s a unique variety that produces loads of small, yellow fruits, about an inch in diameter. The fruits are green to begin with but turn yellow as they reach maturity, in about 75 days from planting. It’s sweet, pineapple flavor is where its name comes from.
  • Amarylla – This is an heirloom variety with sweet yellow fruits that reach maturity as the husks split open. The firm, small fruits are perfect for jams, and salsa.
  • Toma Verde – Maturing in 60 to 70 days, it takes little time to grow, producing abundant, large green fruits. The fruits are very sweet, and work great in sauces and salsa.  

Each plant produces 1 to 2 pounds of fruit so plan around 1 to 2 plants per person, spacing them 3 to 4 feet apart in rows with a 3-foot spacing between rows.

Temperature and Timing for growing Tomatillo

Tomatillo is a warm season vegetable that’s planted outdoors once all dangers of frost have passed in spring, and the temperatures are consistently above 50°F. You may start the seeds earlier indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost and transplant the seedlings once the frost has passed and the soil is warm. The vegetable plant thrives when temperatures are between 70°F and 80°F.  

Sun Exposure and Soil Requirements

Tomatillo requires a spot with full sun to thrive and produce abundant, healthy fruits. For best growth, it needs to get 8 or more hours of direct sunlight.

Well-drained, moderately fertile land is best for tomatillos, but since they’re hardy plants, they’ll also survive in low fertility.

How to Plant Tomatillo

Tomatillo gardening begins with planting the seeds indoors, 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected frost of spring. Staring the seeds indoors is especially important in regions where summers are shorter, since the plants will need at least two months to grow to maturity after being transplanted in the garden.

It’s important to know that you’ll need at least 2 tomatillo plants for pollination and fruit set. Since they are not self-fertilizing, individual plants will not be able to fertilize themselves. Plant the seeds in seedling trays filled with light potting soil and allow them to grow besides a sunny window before they’re ready to go in the garden.

Once the outdoor temperature stays consistently above 50°F, you can start hardening off the seedlings. Give plenty of time to adapt to the outdoor conditions before setting them in the prepared garden bed. Space them at least 3 to 4 feet apart since they have a bushy growth, with 18 to 24 inch spread.

Just like tomatoes, the seedlings are planted deeply since roots appear along the stems. Set some form of support, such as a trellis or a tomato cage to keep the plants off the ground. Mulch the soil with 2 to 3 inches of organic matter to keep weeds at bay and preserve soil moisture.

Offer about an inch of water each week. Since tomatillos are light feeders, they won’t need any fertilization if you planted them in organic soil amended with some compost to begin with.  

Harvest

Tomatillos take around 75 to 100 days to grow to maturity. Here’s how to harvest them.

  • Harvesting begins when the fruits fill out the husks and the papery husks start splitting open.
  • Sometimes, the husk won’t split open but will turn brown and leathery, this is also a sign that they’re ready to be picked.
  • Harvest them while they’re still firm. Don’t wait until the fruit turns pale yellow since they’ll be seedier and will lose their characteristic tanginess.
  • Remove the fruits by cutting the stem with sharp pruners. Avoid pulling the fruits as it may damage the plant.

Storing

If you plan on storing them, don’t remove the husk before refrigerating them. At room temperature, tomatillos will stay fresh for up to a week, while in the fridge, they can last for up to 3 weeks. Either place them loose or inside a paper bag. Don’t store them in plastic. You can also freeze whole or sliced tomatillos to save them for longer. Canning or preserving in the form of sauces or jam is another way to use your harvest through the rest of the year. 

Pests and Diseases

Pests

  • Aphids sometimes bother your tomatillos, sucking the sap from the plants. In small numbers, they aren’t too problematic but too many can cause stunted growth. You can hose them off with water or spray the plants with insecticidal soap.
  • Cucumber beetles, with yellow and black stripes on their back, live on the underside of the leaves, eating away the leaves and weakening the plants. Use floating row covers to protect newly planted seedlings. 
  • Potato beetles are orange-yellow, with three black lines on the back and are a common problem with tomatillo crops. If there are only a few of them, handpicking is enough to eliminate the pests. However, on a heavily infested crop, you may use chemical pesticides – but be careful when using pesticide while tomatillo gardening.

Diseases

  • Anthracnose is a fungal disease that attacks the fruits as it ripens. It begins as a small, sunken spot and grows into a large, black lesion. Eventually, the fruit will rot. The disease is often the result of very hot and humid conditions
  • Bacterial Leaf Spot damages the leaves and the fruits on the plant. It appears as translucent spots that grow bigger with a red center. The disease thrives in cooler climates.

Hopefully, this article will help you with your tomatillo gardening to grow the best tomatillos to feed your Mexican cravings – wish you a great gardening experience!