Sunday, June 29, 2014

Glorious Garlic Scapes

'Q's Special Medley Mesclun Lettuce
The early home grown vegetable harvest is hands down one the most looked forward to garden activity. Second has to be planting tomatoes. There's so much hope in the beginning for tomato plants to grow quickly with no hitches like hail, cold nights or extreme heat too early in the season (we're 3 for 3). For my garden that also includes early blight or the psyllid invasion (0 for 2 as of this writing).

'Bordeaux' Spinach
Up to now (almost July 1), cool-season vegetables have been the "garden stars" and rightfully so...fresh picked 'Q's special medley mesclun' lettuce that goes from garden to a quick rinse then onto the table faster than Ferris gulping down a bison strip.  Or 'bordeaux' spinach with gorgeous red stems that tastes as good as the nutrition it bestows. It all tastes first-rate, but not nearly in the same state, province or territory as fresh cut garlic scapes.  Yes, I said garlic "scapes," check the photos below.  They are the flowering, bobbing, curling wands that emerge from hardneck garlic plants early in the summer. A friend of mine likes them so much that she puts them in a vase and makes a scape arrangement.  She has the Martha Stewart knack of making the simplest do dad or in this case, garden scapes a focal point masterpiece!

A quick garlic primer - garlic is best planted in the fall from late September to mid-October in Colorado so it goes through our winters nicely tucked in ready to start putting on growth as soon as soils warm up in the spring.  It doesn't care if it is rained on, snowed on or hailed on which happened seven times already this spring.  There are two types, softneck and hardneck. The difference is garlic taste, size of bulbs, shelf life and those lovely scapes.  Grow some of each type, there are varieties within each type. Check out Ted Jordan Meredith's book - everything you'll EVER need to know to grow garlic. The Complete Book of Garlic.  It is so thoroughly written with beautiful photography that it doubles as a coffee table book. 

Hardneck scapes are cut off a few weeks before harvest so more energy is put into the bulb getting larger.  These green number two pencil thick shoots are gourmet garlic gold!!! You can pay $5.99 or more a pound for them at Whole Pay Check or grow and harvest your own. Grill, roast, simmer, flavor, pesto, or grate over cereal, just do it. They have a strong garlic taste, but no garlic heat or indigestion issues as some experience with garlic cloves. In two words, they're divine. They will store for close to a month in the produce drawer of your refrigerator. Need more information, come take my class at Denver Botanic Gardens this September - Growing Great Garlic

Ready for cold storage


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flea Beetles are Flying (and munching)

Check out this recent blog post from Mary Small, with the Jefferson County Plant Diagnosis Clinic.  These giant apple flea beetles are showing up all over town.  My friend has a horrible outbreak on her evening primrose plants (photo).

The Attack of the Flea Beetles

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Leafminer Lament

Every spring I plant cool-season lettuce along with the other must haves - Swiss chard, spinach, arugula and beets.  It's been a good season for leafy crops, despite the hail.  We've had seven hail events at our house, luckily they didn't do too much damage.  The raised bed tunnels and shade cloth provide excellent protection from the hail and heavy rains.

Our nephew Max with Ferris after the 7th hail storm this season
Each year the dreaded spinach leafminer (Pegomyia hyoscyami) finds us or at least our plants.  They don't have to go far, the pupal stage overwinters in the soil, then emerge in the spring as adult flies only to lay their eggs on host plant leaves to start the cycle again.  The larvae tunnel between leaf layers of Swiss chard, spinach, beets, potatoes and peas.  In our raised beds they really favor Swiss chard and beet leaves. Their tunneling trails are easy to detect and if left to their own devices, they will destroy many leaves on the plant. Control is difficult since they are in the actual plant tissue.  About all I'm doing now is pinching off affected leaves and throwing them away.  Any leaves left around will only keep their life cycle going, so don't let any leaves remain near the plants after removal.  There are still plenty of unaffected leaves and we're harvesting them quickly, better for us to eat them then the miners!

Going forward I'll rotate crops and keep susceptible plants covered with light weight floating row cover to keep the flies from laying eggs. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mulch Matters

My guess is that many gardeners are on their second planting of tomatoes, peppers and other warm-season vegetables.  The first batch may have been damaged by hail or cold nights.  It's been a rough spring along the Front Range so help your plants get growing by using the best cultural methods - water deeply, not frequently so roots grow down into the soil.  Fertilize early in the season, then mid-season before fruiting and mulch.  Mulch matters for several reasons.  Unless your soil is perfect, you'll need mulch to keep it from cracking and drying out in between watering.  Mulch keeps weeds down and soil temperatures evenly cool and holds moisture. Mulch prevents soil and water from splashing up to the plant bottoms, which can lead to disease conditions. There is simply no downside to mulching vegetables or your entire landscape.

I prefer chemical-free grass clippings and or chopped up leaves (if any are left from last fall).  Some years I use newspapers (4-6 layers or so) around the plants, then cover with clippings or leaves.  The newspaper breaks down over the summer and does a super job as mulch.  Weed-free straw or hay works well too, but I don't have close sources for either living in central Denver.  I'm not a fan of plastic, only using it early in the season to warm the beds.  I renew the mulch as needed, never letting it pack down too densely to prevent water from passing through. 

 Read more about mulches for vegetable gardens on this link - or for the landscape -