Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Veggies To Plant For Fall & Winter

I have received several requests lately asking for advice on what vegetables to plant now for the fall and winter months.  Here at Windmill Farm we have just finished our 2014 CSA produce season.  We started planting some things in February and today, October 1st, I am still picking green beans, peppers, egg plant, tomatoes and carrots. What an amazing year.  We only plant winter vegetables now, not to sell but for ourselves, except for the onions and garlic which will be ready next spring.  The crops we plant in February, are the in ground and above ground plants that will be harvested in late April/early May for the first of our CSA season. 
Before you start buying seeds or putting starts in the ground, I would suggest thinking about or doing a few things first.
Know your planting zone.
There is a great website: http://www.garden.org/zipzone/
You type in your zip code and it will tell you what planting zone you are, which is very important to know.   Zone maps are tools that show where various plants can adapt. If you want a shrub, perennial, or tree to survive and grow year after year, the plant must tolerate year-round conditions in your area, such as the lowest and highest temperatures and the amount and distribution of rainfall.  The same is true of annuals, such as vegetables. After knowing your planting zone, you can go to many seed and planting websites and they will have suggestions of what plants do best in your area.  I am very lucky, I live in Zone 9a.
Make sure all the weeds and debris is removed from the area where you want to plant.  You can't expect new plants to be happy if they are competing for space with dried up weeds or green grass left in the place where you are planting new vegetables.
Moisten the ground first for a few days before you plant.  It has been a hot year and the soil is dry.  Seeds or small plants love moist soil to get a good start growing.
Watering:  Just because you think it will start raining soon or during the next few months and you don't need to water, think again.  The wind starts up, drys the soil out, or there may be many days in-between rains and the plants will dry out. You will need to continue to water or at least check on them every couple of days to make sure they are doing OK.
If you are planting from seed, you need to read carefully how many days from planting to harvest it takes per plant.  As the daylight shortens, they will have less time to grow.  Sometimes it is better/easier to buy plants rather than seeds.  You will find most garden centers have plant starts available now to purchase, I would suggest you do that and save yourself time and increase your chances of getting a harvest in time before the real hard freezes start. Or if you have a greenhouse, then you can start them there and within a week or two move them into the ground.

The top plants that most gardening sites state that you can grow now are: Garlic, Herbs, Lettuces, Radishes & Carrots, Crucifies (Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Dark Greens (Kale, Swiss Chard).

I put them in hardy to semi hardy lists-

Hardy Fall/Winter Vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Collards
  • English peas
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Turnip
Semi-Hardy Vegetables (depends on how cold the winter)
  • Beets
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Endive
  • Irish potatoes
  • Lettuce and gourmet salad greens
  • Radicchio
  • Rutabaga
  • Swiss chard
Think about the location of your winter crop.  It is fun to walk back into a large garden in summer when the weather is nice and you have loads of daylight time to stroll through your vegetable patches.  But during winter, it may be raining, cold, windy, wet and do you want to go to your back "40" as they say, with a flash light to pick some lettuce after you just got home from work or picking the kids up from soccer practice?  No.
So plant your winter crops, if you can, close to the house.  That means you can dig up those annual summer flowers you had in pots around the back door and porch and plant your lettuce or herbs or even kale in them.  Or plant them along the side of your house.  Someplace easy to get to, convenient, otherwise you will not want to take the effort to pick them.  Here is a cute idea to plant in different containers on a ladder.
Pests.  Yes, it is hard to believe that bugs are out there eating your plants in the winter or when it is raining.  In fact, I sometimes think certain pests such as slugs, earwigs, beetles can be just as bad during this time as they are in the summer.  They are hungry for nice sweet young green salad leaves, same as you.  So keep an eye out for bugs.
I hope you have found some of my suggestions and information helpful to you and that you have fun with your fall/winter harvest.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fab Garden Tools For Women; Our Last CSA Basket For Season

It has been one long hot summer but we managed to have a pretty darn decent farm garden for our CSA (Community Supportive Ag) members.  This last week, we delivered our final basket which had in it eggplant, onion, squashes, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, beans, apples, pluots, plums, dried apples, dried peaches and a bit of basil.  A few members received a watermelon, others received different varieties of summer squash as there wasn't enough of the summer squash for all the members.
I received some calls to back to back make anniversary bouquets and a dinner party bouquet.  These arrangements are always fun to do because most of the people who call me just give me some color preferences and let me at it!!!
It makes me feel good that a customer trusts me enough to give me the colors, a price range and why the flowers are needed.  And it is a good feeling that our flowers, grown right here in Butte County are local and picked usually minutes before they are placed in the vase or arrangement.  Did you know that the #1 country to supply the US with flowers is-Netherlands.  #2 US flowers are sent from Columbia.  If those flowers could talk, I bet they would tell a story of possible pesticides; cold storage; forced growing and much worse. If you need flowers, check your local farmer's markets; there are several websites now that list specific farms that grow flowers; or even a neighbor who has a fabulous garden.  Everyone can use a little extra money to buy more seeds or pay for the water, why not give it to them to cut you some beautiful, country, fresh flowers!
In my years of hard gardening and yard work, your tools are what make your job easier.  Frank is so wonderful, he keeps all my hand tools, weed eaters, mowers, weed whackers, you name it ready to go for me, maintained, gassed, fixed.  Several times a year, I need the "hedger" to prune my crepe myrtle bushes; my butterfly bushes; corn stalks; and to use on my privet hedge around the house.  The hedger had a very long blade on it and is gas powered.  It is so heavy, ill balanced and when I turn it side ways to cut the front of the hedge, it would blow fumes in my face.  Honestly, I needed a nap after doing the hedging and my arms and neck hurt so bad. 
One evening I saw an advertisement for a battery powered hedger.  They may have been out there forever, but it occurred to me that possibly there was one powerful enough for really hard labor, not just a postage stamp subdivision back yard, but lighter and easier than the gas powered one.  Frank did some research on the size and weight on-line and found one that he thought I would like.  Now I am not paid to endorse any of these suggestions, I am only passing on my experience and suggestions for some really great gardening tools, because I bought them, used them and love them!!!
My very, very most important gardening tool that I love the most is called the Cobra Weeder/Cultivator.  It is a hand tool that I use every time I garden to not only weed, but I dig holes; plant seeds; plant plants; and even cultivate the soil around plants. If I am in my vegetable or flower gardens, the cobra is in my hands.
We bought this Black and Decker 22nd blade electric hedger for under $50 at Home Depot.  The battery is rechargeable.  Within a few hours of getting it out of the box, I have the side of my house huge butterfly bushes; sucker trees; volunteer blackberry; too tall camellias; AND my privet hedge done.  The ground looks like a cyclone had come through with cut down branches and garden debris.  It was easy to use, no fumes, no real fear of cutting off my leg or arm with the blade; well balanced.  I even had my arms up in the air cutting down the out of control wisteria hanging over the porch and wasn't covered in gas, it was very light weight.
The third tool I have found to be very useful and "woman" friendly to use is the Homelite 7.2volt Electric Scrubber (don't know why they call it that, it says it is used for hedging and trimming).  This tool has only a 6" blade and is so light you can use your other hand to use to control the plant you are cutting.  It isn't as powerful as the B&D hedger by any means, but a great one for small jobs.
I just remembered what else I hated about the gas powered tools besides smelling, heavy and hard to handle.  They are noisy!!!  The electric ones just hummed along quietly.  This little Homelite is also rechargeable but the battery doesn't come out, you just plug it into the unit to re-charge it.
Frank would always offer to do these jobs for me, but he is busy with even heavier work and repairs than this and besides, I like to do it myself.  Frank usually will have me tell him which plants to cut, which ones not to cut and we would be yelling back and forth to each other over the loud gas engine hedger.  Now I can have my own "woman" tools ready to go, plugged in, in my garden shed, handy for whatever cutting I need done in a hurry.
Oh, did I mention I have my own blower?  Yes, one that is easy to start, it is gas, but quieter than most, not as heavy, short nozzle to it, well balanced.  Did you ever notice how most tools are meant for people who are much taller or longer arms or something, my goodness!!!  Who needs a blower that has a plastic nozzle 4 feet long???  I will pass on the make/model next time as I can't remember it now.  I always call it my orange blower.  Doesn't everyone have 3 blowers?
Until next time-

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Giving The Front Of The House a DIY Update Painting Project

It wasn't that many years ago that we painted our house and all the trim.  That included the front porch areas of our house.  The house was built originally around 1926 but added on and remodeled in the 1930s which gives it the Arts & Craft architectural look.
We replaced the rotting square columns with round columns; and the concrete steps and front porch had flaking gray concrete paint.  When choosing our paint color, which is a sage green, I picked white and black trim. But after completing the paint job, I realized the front needed a punch of color so selected a dark red for the porch paint.  The porch faces south and gets all the driving winds and rains resulting in the porch was looking pretty shabby lately.  Time for a color boost.

I went into the garage looking, hopefully for a paint can left over with the original color name.  I was in luck because I not only had a can but it was 3/4 full.  I recalled the original painting took 2 coats so I must have purchased 2 gallons of paint, only using 1 gallon and part of the one left over.  Lucky me, I saved myself some money by being able to use what I had left over.
I took everything off the porch, washed it down and waited for it to completely dry.  I have two concrete planters that weigh a good 100 pounds each filled with dirt and plants.  Frank put them up on blocks so I could paint underneath them.  When the porch was dry, I started painting.  I had really thought it would take me about 3 hours.  After I cut in around the side of the house and front door, I rounded up a good new roller and pan and finished up the main surface and part of the steps.  I used my paint brush to get the risers of the steps and the corners where the steps meet the side walk which is NOT painted.  It turned out pretty well and only took 1 hour.
Then I realized that my dogs go to the front door to be let in if the back door is closed.  Back to the garage again and I found the collapsible gates we used to use to keep the grand kids out of areas that were dangerous for them.
After looking at the wicker furniture that was on the porch, I realized they needed a coat of paint too.  Back to the garage to see if I happen to have some spray cans of gloss black.  I had a can and Frank found one in his shop too.  Since the chairs had already been painted several times, the two cans were enough to paint them and the Antique French Plant Stand I have had for over 45 years.
Letting everything dry for another day, I removed the gates, put the furniture back on the porch and looked back to admire.  Now the fabric on the chair pillows looked faded and shabby and the front door needed something.
That night I went on line to Joanns and found some really cute outdoor fabric, on sale and ordered what I needed for $20.  In the mean time, I found a galvanized bucket, flat on one side and filled it with silk flowers.
 Within a couple of days, the fabric arrived thanks to the marvel of the Internet, I never needed to leave home!!!  I spent a few hours sewing up some cushions and viola, the front porch is fun, inviting and a fresh look to bring in the future fall decorations.
I tried a couple different containers for door arrangement, one a wicker basket, the other the galvanized bucket.  What do you think?
This last photo is taken around the time the Finnie Family, (original family owners of our house from the 1920's- 1980s) remodeled house in the 1930s.  Don't you just love old houses?  There is really something special about an old house and charm, you just can't reproduce it.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Can I Talk Too Much About Flowers, Farming, Gardening and Decoraring??? Don't Think So

Morning from Sunny Northern California.  Today is September 5th and it is supposed to be 98 degrees today. Will the heat ever end?? Frank gave me a new sign as a surprise gift the other day.
The tomato canning class went so well, what great ladies come to these classes.  We canned 2 batches of halved tomatoes; and while they were cooking, we made 3 batches of tomato/basil/balsamic jam.  It is fabulous tasting over goat cheese, on crackers.
But I believe the shortage of water has taken a small toll on our yard.  Our oak tree out front of our house just went and died.  It was a smaller oak that was next to our huge oak. One day we were driving into our driveway and Frank said, I think that tree is dead. You know when you live someplace you don't really notice changes happening?  I put the water to it for about a week without any change.
I called a great company, Gold State Tree Company, who is based right here in Gridley.  They cut down a huge dead walnut tree for us when we first moved to this house.  I called in the morning, they came at 1:30 pm the same day. He came out to the house prior to cutting down the tree to inspect and advise me whether the tree was just stressed or dead. Gave me a very reasonable quote. Cleaned up all debris, raked and even took off the dead ivy crawling up the huge old oak next to this dead tree while they were up in the boom. 
Many of our crops are finished as we are getting to the end of our CSA farming season.  But the flowers just keep on blooming.
Right now we are drying any excess fruit we may have, even dry tomatoes.  I have a friend who has an orchard and he is going to give me all the apples that are bruised, worms or any that are not perfect for him to sell, but will be perfect for me to slice and dry.
Here are trays of the peaches and tomatoes drying.

I painted the front porch as it was looking fairly sad.  With that change, I needed to make new cushions and even changed the front door decoration. 

Even Bella and Annie were busy chasing ground squirrels up trees.