Category Archives: Garden

Leek Information

Leek

What is a Leek

The leek (allium porrum), a mild flavored member of the onion family, is a hardy biennial grown as an annual in the vegetable garden. However; unlike onions and shallots, leeks do not bulb, they are straight stalk plants. Gardeners and farmers grow them for their thick, juicy, mild flavored stems. The edible part is the lower stem.

The leek is known as the gourmet's onion because of their mild flavorIf left in the garden, and if they survive winter weather, they will flower in year two and go to seed, as does parsley.

The top growth of a leek (the leaves), called the flag, is thick and strap like and are colored green to dark blue-green. The top growth does not die back as the plant matures.

Leeks contain the following vitamins and minerals:

Vitamins – Vitamin A, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic acid (B5), Vitamin B6, Folate (B9), Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K

Minerals – Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium

Leeks require a long growing season—up to 170 days. They grow best in cool, mild weather.

They are easy to grow. They require little to no attention and are generally pest-free. In the kitchen, they can be substituted for onions and, unlike onions, can be chopped and frozen for use in the winter after you run out of your own onions.

Types of Leeks

There are two types of leeks: short-season (non-hardy)and long-season (hardy).

Short-season leeks, also known as summer leeks, have thin stems. They mature in about 60 – 90 days and are harvested during the summer and early fall. They can be treated like scallions when young. Summer leeks are not winter hardy and do not store as well as long-season leeks. Good varieties of summer leeks are:

Alto Leek early summer – High Mowing Seeds
King Richard Leek – High Mowing Seeds
Chinook Leek – Territorial Seed Company

Long-season leeks, also known as winter leeks, have thick, cylindrical stems. They take about 100 – 170 days to reach harvest. Long-season leeks are harvested late summer through the winter. They store well either inground or in cold damp sand. Good varieties of winter leeks are:

Bandit Leek – High Mowing Seeds
Tadorna Leek – High Mowing Seeds
American Flag – Ferry Morse

Where to plant

First, if you can, you should rotate the location of where you grow your vegetables – and that also includes leeks.  Try to move them to a new bed to avoid sections where they, onions or garlic have grown in the past year. This helps avoid the pests and diseases that can cause problems or ruin the crop.

Leeks like full sun, however, they do tolerate partial shade. Plant in well-drained soil rich in organic matter with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.

When to plant

Winter leeks take up to four (4) months to mature, if you live above zone 7, you should sow your leek seeds indoors in early spring. Start the seeds indoors about 2 – 3 months before the last expected spring frost – check the Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Transplant seedlings into the garden as early as 1 to 2 weeks before the last expected spring frost. Leeks should be in the garden no later than early summer for autumn harvest.  They will survive light frosts even when young — and heavy frosts in the fall.

If you live in planting zone 7 and warmer, you can plant winter leeks directly into the garden about the time of the last expected spring frost.

Summer leeks can be sown directly into the garden about the time of last spring frost dates.

Unused seeds can be kept up to 3 years.

How to Plant

Space leeks 6 inches apart when planting. Leeks grow best in temperature between 55° and 75°F. Growth will be slowed by hot weather. Planting beds should have well-aged manure and compost.

Sow leek seeds ½ inch deep. They typically germinate in 10 to 14 days at 70°. When the seedlings reach about 8 inches, thin to 4 to 6 inches apart. Rows should be spaced 12 to 16 inches apart. Stagger the plants in each row so they are not uniform, this will allow the plants more room to grow.

The top 6 inches of soil in each row should be removed to create trenches. As the plants grow you will need to use the removed soil to back-fill around the stems (you may fill in 2 -4 times during the growing season). This will blanch the lower stems that get covered. Blanched stems will be white and tender.

Plant Care

Keep the soil around leeks evenly moist; water when the surface becomes just dry. Feed plants with compost tea or worm tea every four weeks during the growing season. If using normal fertilizing methods, you should spread 5-10-5 fertilizer every 3 to 4 weeks at a rate of 5 ounces of fertilizer per 10 feet of row.

Soil that tumbles into leaf folds can wind up trapped between skin layers in the stem. To keep this from happening you can slip a section of paper tube, such as from toilet tissue or paper towels, over the plants while they are still young as early as planting time. The tube will rot over the growing season but will help prevent soil from getting into leaf bases during early growth.

The closer together you plant leeks, the smaller they will be. Commercial growers usually place them about 6-8″ apart and don’t thin them. A good technique for home gardeners is to plant them just 2-3″ apart and achieve proper spacing by harvesting leeks as you need them. These young leeks are a good substitute for green onions in the kitchen.

After planting, mulch the bed with straw (I hate Straw) or other organic material to help soil retain moisture. Water plants as needed until they are established. Plants require an inch of water a week, either through rainfall or irrigation. Inconsistent moisture yields tough stems.

To encourage stocky stem growth, trim the tops of the leeks keeping them about 4 inches tall until they are transplanted into the garden.

Pests

On young plants, slugs can be devastating. Gather them at night, set traps, or use biological control.

Diseases

If there is a lot of rain in winter or early spring, leaf rot can set in. Rot shows as white spots on leaf tips that eventually shrivel. At this point there is not much you can do except pull the rotted plants and thin the planting to increase air circulation.

In summer orange pustules on leaves indicate leek rust, which is worse in wet growing seasons. Remove affected foliage; later maturing foliage will be healthy

Harvesting

You can pull leeks any time. Typically, you want them at least 1 inch or larger in diameter, but you can dig young ones to eat like green onions / scallions. Leeks have large root systems so use a hand fork or garden fork to loosen the soil before lifting the plants. A 10-foot row will yield about 15 to 20 mature plants.

In colder areas, extend the harvest season by mulching deeply around plants (up to 1 foot deep). You can continue harvesting leeks but before a hard freeze happens, dig them and store.

In zones 7 and warmer, you should be able to harvest leeks all winter long.

Storing

Initially, when harvesting leeks, shake and brush off as much soil as possible then rinse the plant thoroughly. To freeze leeks, wash, slice, and blanch for 1 minute in boiling water. Drain, drip dry, and toss into plastic freezer bags.

Store leeks wrapped in a damp paper towel in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. Smaller leeks store better than larger leeks. Trim the roots and wash the leaves and stem before refrigerating.

For longer storage in coldest zones, dig leeks with roots attached. Cut leaves back until just an inch of green remains on each leaf. Place stems in a box (root side down) and pack with sawdust, clean sand, or vermiculite. Keep the packing moist and store in a cool place. Stems will keep up to 8 weeks

Frost Date Maps

Frost Date Maps

These Frost Date Maps Derived from the 1981–2010 U.S. Climate Normals—30-year averages of climatological variables like temperatures—these maps show the time of year, on average, that areas across the nation can expect to see their temperatures dip to 32°F or below for the last time. The map reveals some interesting regional differences across the country. In the East, the last spring freeze date generally progresses through time as you move northward on the map. However, in the West, the changes are much more complex due to elevation and coastal influences.Frost Date Maps

Wondering what happened to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico? The unique climates of these regions pose a problem in calculating the average date of the last spring freeze. Nearly all of Alaska falls into the “too cold to compute” category, meaning that the state is likely to see freezing temperatures year-round. At the opposite end of the spectrum, all of Puerto Rico and all but the highest elevations of the state of Hawaii fall into the “too warm to compute” category, meaning that they very rarely or never see freezing temperatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more information – go to National weather Service

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Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Plant Hardiness Zone Map

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location, click here for the interactive map . The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.

The USDA system was originally developed to aid gardeners and landscapers in the United States.

Plant Hardiness Zone Map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, for which a  for broadband Internet connection is recommended, and as static images for those with slower Internet access. Users may also simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.

If you want an accurate map to not only provide general band guidelines for the USA but can also be so detailed that your town, down to the zip code, is reported on. The hardiness scales do not take into account the reliability of snow cover. Snow acts as an insulator against extreme cold, protecting the root system of hibernating plants.

The zones do not incorporate any information about summer temperature, thus sites which may have the same mean winter minima, but markedly different summer temperatures, will be accorded the same hardiness zone.

As the USDA system is based entirely on average annual extreme minimum temperature in an area, it is limited in its ability to describe the climatic conditions a gardener may have to account for in a particular area: there are many other factors that determine whether or not a given plant can survive in a given zone.

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Hybrid Plants

Hybrid Plants

Hybrid plants are created when breeders cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant to produce a modified variety (a hybrid) that contains certain traits of each parent. In hybridization, pollination is carefully controlled to ensure that the right plants are crossed to achieve a combination of characteristics, such as bigger size, better disease resistance, fruit maturity, etc. The process of developing a hybrid can take years and may require many more years to get it right.

An example of a hybrid tomato is Juliet, a Roma-style grape indeterminate tomato that is known for its great taste and heavy production along with improved disease resistance. Another is Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato. In general, hybrids offer some combination of traits from each parent, when done correctly the traits are the best of each parent.

Crossing involves taking the pollen from the male flower parts and transferring it to the female. The first generation, often referred to as F-1, of offspring from this cross all look and act the same. They also show what’s known as hybrid vigor: these plants come out stronger than their parents. If you attempt to take seeds from the hybrid fruit you will either end up with infertile seeds (sterile) that will not sprout or a plant that exhibits traits related more to one of the original parents and not the hybrid you took the seeds from.

Many times the seeds of hybrid plants are owned by the developer. Trying to use them for commercial purposes may be cause for legal action – be aware of this. Hybrid plants and fruits are not necessarily better than naturally produced such as heirlooms but you would never know due to the mass marketing of commercial growers.

Defining Heirloom Plants

Defining Heirloom Plants

According to Burpee, when defining heirloom plants, “the term is usually applied to fruit, flower or vegetables varieties that were being grown before World War II”. These plants have had generations to develop the characteristics that give their fruit flavor, the plants natural growth habits and, unfortunately, this sometimes leaves the plants susceptible to disease.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated meaning that mother-nature does most of the work. Plant a grouping of seeds of an heirloom pepper or tomato and you will collect seeds that will produce plants with most of the characteristics of the parent plants. Considerations should be made for bees coming to your garden after having visited your neighbors’ gardens adding a bit of variance – but that may be good. Heirloom vegetables Defining Heirloom Plants they can be vegetable, berry, fruitmay produce a “mixed bag” harvest. The harvest may come in less predictably, and fruit size can vary greatly even on the same plant.

One of the main reasons I like to garden with heirlooms is you are growing a plant that is an extension of nature. Heirloom seeds are generations in the making. Nature has established the characteristics not a scientist. When growing with heirloom seeds, harvest some seeds to use next year and for sharing with family and friends to add diversity of choice for everyone’s garden and bring diversity in the natural gene pool.

Most heirlooms are not archaic plants that some adventurer discovered after fighting off hungry cannibals, as Burpee describes it: “Many heirlooms are commercially-bred varieties from the seed catalogs of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.” If you have never attempted to grow heirloom plants, give it a try, you may find flavors and plants you like.

Starting Gardens using Seeds

Starting Gardens using Seeds

Growing your own food is both cathartic as well as an environmentally conscious endeavor. Starting gardens using seeds takes gardening to the very root of the process. By taking it upon yourself to raise your own “crops”, you will know exactly what has gone into & onto your food. I have been gardening most of my life, sometimes having unbelievable years with excess so much that canning and preserving became a nightmare while in other years I scratched my head trying to come up with an answer to that year’s failure. I try to grow “as organic as possiblStarting Gardens using Seeds. Setting up trays for seeds is importante. I fight the pests and weeds as organically as possible. When the garden starts to produce and we eat the first tomato or pepper, knowing it is clean of harmful synthetic chemicals is comforting. Also knowing the food came from 200 steps away and not 2,000 miles away along with the associated costs is well, rather satisfying.

A few years back I decided to venture out and try varieties that could not be bought at the local commercial greenhouse. Tomato varieties such as Cherokee purple and yellow pear were not offered yet they are our favorites. Buying pre-started beets were more expensive than just buying produce from the local supermarket. I also want to know what the heck I am growing and eating. The goal was heirloom, organic and nothing GMO. In order to do that I had to plant my own seeds.

There are a lot of articles out on the web today about starting seeds and the ease of doing so. I recently read an article that soft pedaled the process, and in my opinion, got it wrong. Frankly, it is easier to go to the local greenhouse and buy a flat of whatever and plant than it is to start your garden with seeds. If you decide to buy plants, you will be limited to the varieties and types of vegetables you grow but you will have less sweat in the game. Going down to the store and choosing packets of seeds is easy (and fun) but you are just at the beginning of a long process. Considerations such as where to house the seedlings, the amount of space needed, planting medium, temperature, humidity, time and lighting should be thought out and handled before you ever plant your first seed.

Housing your plants & space

Before you buy the first packet of seeds, a plan needs to be made as to where your plants will be housed. Considerations as to space:
Do you want 5 plants or 100? You will need to plant more seeds per type of plant then you will end up putting out into the garden. Plan for seeds not sprouting, seedlings dying and seedlings that will not grow. My rule of thumb is, plant 1 ½ times more then you need. Your space considerations should take this into account.

Will you use stand-alone individual containers, or will you use seed trays? For corn I go with large containers right from the start. I plant the seeds in mid-April and move them to the garden in late May. Beans are started in late April in small flats and then moved to the garden in late May, same goes for cabbage, cucumbers, squash, etc. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are started in small flats in early March, right after they set their first true leaves, I move them into 2” x 2” cups before ultimately going to the garden in very late May. Spinach, beets, carrots and onions are planted straight into the garden.

Do you have enough containers? If you want ten good tomato plants – plant 45 seeds in 15 cups (15 cups being the 1 ½ times rule). Expect 8 seeds to be crap, 4 seedlings to die and 8 seedlings to be just garbage. That would leave you with twenty-five plants to choose your ten from (quick note, you want to get to 1 plant per cup, you will need to pull extra seedlings – be merciless). If the seeds all sprout, and you are like me, you can care for them, plant them in individual pots and at the end – share any excess plants with family and friends.

Is the space you are thinking of warm enough? In my first shot at starting seeds, I planted in my basement. The temperature was in the high 50’s. The tomatoes, peppers and eggplants did not spout for 3 weeks. I finally moved them upstairs and they sprouted within a week. I moved them back to the basement and the cold temperature on those warm weather vegetables stopped their growth. They went into the garden in late May and did terrible – word of warning.

Is there an ability for fresh air and/or air movement? Stagnant air can potentially lead to disease (damping off) and/or unhealthy plants. The ability to bring in fresh air or at least moving air, in my opinion, is good. If you use a fan to move air within the plant nursery, the airflow will help move stale air away along with the added benefit of making the plants a bit hardier & stockier.

Are there ample electrical outlets available? – yes you will need electricity. You will need electrical outlets for lighting. Being able to use fans is good (see above). If the area is cold, you will want to use a heater to raise the temperature.

If the seedlings turn to small plants before you can get them outside and into the garden, do you have larger containers they can be replanted in and is the space large enough to handle the larger containers needed?

Planting medium

You can, but you should not, use soil from your garden to start your seeds. Garden soil is usually heavy and may have lots of little critters, organisms, fungus, etc., issues you really do not want to deal with when starting your seeds. There are a lot of seed starting soils on the market today and most are good. The best are light mixes, vermiculite and peat along with other stuff. They will hold moisture, are lite enough for the seeds to sprout without too much wasted energy and are proper PH (proper PH is very important). If you want to create your own starter soil try: 80% vermiculite and 20% potting soil.

Temperature

As mentioned before, if you plant warm weather seeds in a cold area expect little to nothing. Articles note that tomato seedlings cannot process nutrients correctly in cool conditions.  Most gardeners want summer vegetables and that means a warm “nursery”. Try to make the area around 70°F. You can spend the money on heat mats – they do work, I have one that I use to give tomato and eggplant seeds an extra bit of care. The mats are an added expense and … require electricity. The better choice is a space heater – not a crap one that will catch fire but a decent one that has good temperature control and is powerful enough for your nursery space. Remember when starting seeds, you need to do it right.

Lighting

Unless you have a greenhouse and can provide roughly 8 – 10 hours of sunlight each day, you will need lights. As everyone should know, normal house lighting will not do a good job, they will work but your seedlings will not get what they really need. House lights do not provide the full spectrum of light waves that seedlings and plants need to flourish. My first “grow lights” were florescent tube full spectrum grow lights – the setup was expensive. Today there are LED’s that can be bought cheaply, and last much longer than florescent tube lights, on Amazon that can be put into any house-light fixture. 2 – 4 lights and you have a well-lit nursery for your seedlings.

Moving your plants outdoors

When the time comes, and it will be different for each variety of plant, you will set the young plant out to “harden up”. This is not so the plants are acclimated to the temperature – do not even think of doing that. Putting tomato plants, etc. out into 50°F days are 40°F nights will only stop their growth, so much so that the plants will have a tough time getting back on track. All the work you did will end up for naught. Moving the plants out should be done at each type’s ideal temperature. When starting gardens using seeds, the hardening is for the plants to get used to the direct sunlight. Plants cannot go from a “grow light” environment directly into sunlight. Too often the plants and their leaves are not ready – too much sunlight too soon can burn the leaves and kill the young plants. The best way to harden off the plants is a week-long process such as:

Day 1 & 2 – put plants in direct sunlight for no more than 2 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good
Day 3 & 4 – put plants in direct sunlight for 3 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good
Day 5 & 6 – put plants in direct sunlight for 4 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good
Day 7 & 8 – put plants in direct sunlight for 6 hours. Remainder in shade or back under the grow lights. IF THE plants look good – plant them.