Here are some great growing tips from farm apprentice Ryan Carnley.
Georgia has a wonderful climate for growing vegetables. The long growing season our climate affords allows us to have fresh produce for most of the year. Farmers have many tools they can use, such as greenhouses, hoophouses, and row covers to extend this growing season even more so they can sell produce year round, but home gardeners often have to wait until April to put plants in the ground or the frost would likely kill their plants and undo their hard work. In this article I am going to show you some inexpensive (even free!) and simple ways that you can extend your growing season in your backyard garden.
Many plants can handle low temperatures without any harm. They may grow slower or even go dormant, but when the weather warms up they return to full growth. It is the frost that forms on the leaves on the cold nights that really takes a toll on the plants. In order to get plants in the ground earlier and extend your growing season you have to have a way to keep the frost off of the plants, but commercially available solutions to this problem can get expensive. The earliest form of season extension used in farming was a glass cloche. This bell shaped glass dome protected the plants from frost damage and even trapped some of the sun’s warmth inside to help the plant maintain vigorous growth over the cold nights. You can still purchase these glass cloches from garden supply stores, but there are some simple ways to make your own right at home with materials that you use every day!
The Soda Bottle Cloche:
The Milk Jug Cloche:
To make these cloches all you need to do is save or scavenge plastic 2 liter soda bottles or milk jugs and cut the bottoms off them. Then clean the bottles out well and let them dry and they are ready to use. You will want to keep the bottle caps as well so that you can seal in the warmth over night.
To use these cloches you would place the cloche over your plants in the afternoon before a frost is anticipated. Leave the cap off while it is still sunny outside so that the container can trap heat inside (like a greenhouse), but will be able to breathe and not overheat the plant. Once the sun starts to set place the cap on the bottles to trap in the heat for the night and protect them from the frost. If you would like to protect them even better you can pile up mulch around the base of the cloche! Once the morning sun comes you remove the cloche and let your plants soak it in. Using these simple and cheap tools you can get your plants growing earlier and enjoy fresh produce sooner!
Some wonder what we do on cold and wet mornings like today. Well, weekends and weekdays run together this time of year and we always try to chip away at our lengthy to do list. Many of the things left on our winter to do list are less maintenance tasks (things that include weeding, watering, or harvesting) and focus on the bigger picture tasks that will set forth a new successful year.
Today I’ll share with you one of our favorite (and therefore completed earlier than the rest of the other) tasks.
Seed orders and crop plans for 2013.
Eight long years ago my winter was similar. Measure fields, take soil samples, set forth all kinds of spreadsheets to calculate how much lime to add, how many beet seeds we’d need, how much money it all would take. Now that we have our field sizes, crop rotation, soil maintenance, and budget somewhat dialed in, I mostly just have to figure: what do we need to grow more of, what do we need to grow less of, and what varieties will we produce.
The more and less question is a factor of two things: customer (CSA, restaurant, and market) demand and profitability — what items take less space, less work, and still fetch a high price in the market. Many farmers use intricate formulas to figure yields per bed vs. time spent vs. material costs, but we just reflect on our memories to quantify.
A good example would be head lettuce vs. beans. Bean seed is upwards of $10 per lb which will seed only about 100 feet. Beans take 50 days from emergence to picking, with 2-3 weeding sessions, tedious thinning, row covering for bean beetle control, they require about 1 hour to collect 10-15 lbs and from that hour, directly to market, we may make $30. Head lettuce seeds are only about $2 per 400 heads and while lettuce does take time in the greenhouse, once it’s planted out it only requires one pass of weeding and will be ready to harvest relatively pest free after about 40-50 days. Lettuce will get $1.5-3 per head and we have 6 heads per bed foot. Harvesting takes a fraction of a second. And with this example we see that lettuce is a much more profitable crop than beans — financially and relative to time.
So, with this information, we can then realize that we would make more money planting only lettuce, but then realize our customer demand for beans. What would summer be without the crisp and green-ness of a green bean? How would Chef Hilary make the summer fish stand out on the dinner menu without a bed of yellow French filet beans? So beans will be planted, but not enough that we have a surplus. And figuring the relative quantity of each vegetable to plant takes planning and lots of thought.
So once we figure out how much space we’ll plant (and harvest) relative to the previous year, we then move to the seed catalogs and select varieties. Since we are certified organic, we must use organic seed when available. Each year we try new varieties and make notes on varieties that we don’t feel work for us. Even still, each year we grow more varieties than the year before. We like the diversity on the farm, the different benefits of disease resistance, earliness, but also better texture or flavor from the heirloom heritage varieties. This year, we’re growing over 450 varieties of plants. That includes herbs, flowers, vegetables. We price varieties out and order from the following companies (in order of $ spent): Johnny’s, High Mowing Seeds, Fedco Seeds, Harris Seeds, Totally Tomatoes, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and a handful of fun varieties we’ve found from other seed companies.
Once our varieties are chosen and carefully entered into our spreadsheet (that we keep columns for days to maturity, best time to be planted, special characteristics, etc), we place our orders and end up spending about 1.5-2% of our total revenue on vegetable, herb, and flower seeds.
The result is an influx of boxes filled with the hope and promise of a successful season — all in separate packets. One of my favorite tasks is sorting these seeds, mixing all the companies’ products together to fill up our boxes — one box for beets, one for turnips and rutabagas, one for head lettuce, one for brassicas…. And now all of our future work and harvest will sprout from one shelf in my office.
Another one from Caitlin:
- 1 eggplant
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.
- Place eggplant on baking sheet, and make holes in the skin with a fork. Roast it for 30 to 40 minutes, turning occasionally, or until soft. Remove from oven, and place into a large bowl of cold water. Remove from water, and peel skin off.
- Place eggplant, lemon juice, tahini, sesame seeds, and garlic in an electric blender, and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer eggplant mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, and slowly mix in olive oil. Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.
This is great with crackers, pita bread, or sliced veggies!
Courtesy of Caitlin:
Garlic and Herb Roasted Eggplant:
- 1 large eggplant (or 2-3 small ones), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- freshly chopped parsley, basil, oregano, thyme
- About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- About 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Parmesan cheese
- Pita bread
- Optional: plain Greek yogurt
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with olive oil to thoroughly coat the pieces. Place the eggplant onto a baking sheet and put into the preheated oven.
In the same bowl, toss the whole garlic cloves with a few drops of oil. After the eggplant has been roasting for about 20 minutes, add the garlic cloves into the mix. Continue to roast until both are tender, about 20 minutes.
When the eggplant is tender, give it a stir and add in the tomatoes. Continue to roast for about 10 more minutes, or until the eggplant begins to caramelize and the tomatoes soften. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside to cool.
When they are cool enough to handle, remove the garlic cloves and chop into small pieces (the texture will be almost puree-like).
Place the roasted garlic, eggplant and tomatoes and any juices that came out while roasting into a bowl (if you use the same bowl you used for prepping the vegetables, you get the benefit of the remaining olive oil and have fewer dishes to do).
Add the herbs, grated parmesan cheese, and just enough vinegar to coat. Enjoy this mixture alone or with toasted pita bread and a spoonful of Greek yogurt!
Found and adjusted from http://herbsspices.about.com/od/salads/r/GarlicHerbEggpl.htm
Our pepper plants are producing some really large, beautiful peppers. This dish is a great way to use bell peppers and is quite hearty. Enjoy!
- 4 bell peppers, sliced in half stem-to-tip, seeds removed
- 1c quinoa, uncooked
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1 (15oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tomato, seeded and diced
- 2-3 jalapeno or other spicy pepper
- 1/4c cilantro or parsley, minced
- 1/4tsp salt
- 1/4tsp pepper
- olive oil, if desired
- 1/2c Monterrey Jack, grated
- 1/2c cheddar cheese, grated
- Add quinoa and onion to a large saucepan with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil 5 minutes, cover, turn off heat and let steam 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
- Pour quinoa/onion mixture into a mixing bowl. Stir in black beans, tomato, spicy peppers, cilantro/parsley, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. If dry, add olive oil.
- Divide filling among peppers. Nestle stuffed peppers into pan. Sprinkle with cheeses
- Cover the pan with foil and bake at 375 degrees 25-30 minutes. Remove foil and cook about 5 minutes longer. Serve warm.
- 2 pounds yellow crookneck squash, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup olive oil, plus more to garnish
- 1/8 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/8, teaspoon ground turmeric
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Chopped mint, to garnish
- 1. Combine the squash, olive oil, red pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric and 1 1/2 cups water in a pot with a large pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the squash is very tender.
- 2. Once the squash has cooled, purée it in a blender on high for 30 seconds. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve. When completely cool, season to taste with the lime juice, salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, and garnish with mint and a few drops of olive oil.
This is a cooling and healthy dip, adapted from Heidi Swanson’s cookbook, ”Super Natural Everyday”. Easy to whip up and a great way to use your cucumbers! Don’t be afraid to play around with the ingredient ratios. I like to think of this recipe as a guide – it doesn’t need to be followed strictly. I always adjust the flavor with a little extra salt & lemon juice at the end.
1 1/2 small cucumbers (unpeeled. halved, and seeded)
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup walnut halves (toasted and chopped)
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
big pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup plain yogurt (more for a thicker sauce)
Shred the cucumbers on the large holes of a grater. Measure out about 1 1/12 cups grated cucumber and give it a nice gentle squeeze to work out excess water. Put the cucumber in a small bowl. Peel your garlic clove, sprinkle it with salt. and chop it into a nice paste. Add this to the cucumber along with the walnuts, lemon zest and juice, and pepper flakes. Stir with a fork until combined, then fold in the yogurt. Adjust seasonings, add some fresh herbs, and enjoy with pita chips!