Tip: Keep Picking Those Vegetables

Do you know exactly when to pick some of the more popular vegetables? Pick vegetables to keep them producing. Pick green beans when pods are 3 to 4 inches long, but still smooth and smaller around than your little finger. Pick zucchini when it’s less than 5 inches long. Tomatoes are best when left to ripen on the vine, they lose flavor when picked to soon. Cucumbers are meant to be picked before they start turning white on the bottom, remaining all green. Pumpkin last several months when picked after the stem is brown and the pumpkin is mostly orange. If corn cobs feel full through to the top and the silk are dark brown, then grab an ear and snap downwards.

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Tip: Tomato Blossom Drop

Do you know what causes blossoms to drop from your tomato plants? Tomato blossom drop is usually caused by above 90F or below 50F temperatures. To protect plants against heat, provide shade from the hot afternoon sun. To protect against cold temperatures, cover plants with a floating row cover.

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Happy Gardening from the Master Gardener Girl!!

How to Eat Squash Blossoms

Squash have edible blossoms that you can eat raw or cooked. You can use either summer or winter squash blossoms. Only pick male blossoms because your female blossoms are the fruit producers unless you want to reduce production. Male blossoms are easily distinguished from the female blossoms. The stem of the male blossom is thin and trim. The stem of the female blossom is very thick. At the base of the female flower below the petals is where the squash is developing.

Always leave a few male blossoms on the vine for pollination purposes or self pollinate as you pick. However, there are many more male flowers than female. Harvest only the male squash blossoms unless you are trying to reduce production. If you want less production, then the female blossom can be harvested with a tiny squash growing below the blossom and used in recipes along with full blossoms. Use the blossom of any variety of summer or winter squash in your favorite squash blossom recipe.

To cut squash blossoms, use pruning shears or a sharp knife. It is best to cut them at midday when the petals are open, leaving one inch of stem. Gently rinse your blossoms in a bowl of cool water and store in a bowl of ice water in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. The flowers can be stored up to 1 or 2 days. One way to fix them is to sauté the blossoms in olive oil and garlic for a few minutes and serve. You can also batter and fry the blossoms in a little oil. If you’ve never eaten squash blossoms, you are in for a real treat. Besides, they are nutritious!

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Happy Gardening from the Master Gardening Girl!

Heirloom Tomatoes – How to know if your tomatoes are heirloom

Do you know what an heirloom tomato is? A particularly large number of heirloom tomato varieties are available today, mainly because tomatoes normally do not cross-pollinate. An heirloom tomato is a variety that has been around for 50 plus years.

Seed saved from heirloom fruits, non-hybrid varieties, produce plants fairly identical to the parent plant. Many of the odder colors and types that have resurfaced lately have their origins in these older, self-saved varieties. The plant type is usually large, sprawling and late compared to current commercial varieties.

Disease resistance may also be expected. If the gardener wants to try a few truly weird or tasty types of heirloom tomatoes, these usually mature some fruits almost anywhere except in the shortest-season areas in Northern states. Specialty seed houses and exchanges are a source of the widest variety of heirloom tomatoes imaginable. I also have seeds of many heirloom varieties mentioned below.

Heirloom varieties can include Green Zebra, Beefsteak, Mortgage Lifter, Arkansas Traveler, Brandywine, Bloody Butcher, Amish Paste, Stupice, Marglobes and Rutgers to name a few. These tomatoes made this list because they perform well under a wide range of conditions and delivering the flavor people want from homegrown tomatoes.

If you like them enough to start saving seeds, which is the first step toward cultivating varieties that are especially well-suited to your garden, you can save the seeds in a cool dry place for next year.

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Happy Gardening! – The Organic Home and Gardening Gal & Master Gardener

Harvesting Tomato Tips – Summer and Fall Harvesting

Do you know when to harvest tomatoes? Tomatoes should be firm and fully colored. They are of highest quality when they ripen on the vine and daily summer temperatures average about 75°F.

When the temperatures are high, at least 90°F, the softening process is accelerated and color development is retarded, reducing quality. For this reason, you should pick your tomatoes every day or two, harvest the fruits when color has started to develop and ripen them further indoors between 70 and 75°F.

On the day before a killing freeze is expected, harvest all green mature fruit that is desired for later use in the fall. If you wrap the tomatoes individually in newspaper and store at 60 to 65°F, they will continue to ripen slowly over the next several weeks. Whole plants can be uprooted and hung in sheltered locations, where fruit continues to ripen. Just don’t forget about your tomatoes sitting in a box in another room.

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Organic Container Gardening Secrets – How to Garden easily from a Container

Do you want fresh organic veggies but don’t have space for a garden? It is your lucky day because I have the solution for you. Organic container gardening fits just about anywhere, and it’s even easier than having an organic garden plot.

Containers

Anything that you can put soil in can be a garden container. Some organic gardeners prefer to use natural containers, such as those made from wood or clay, but you can use anything. You can put a plant in an old toilet, a worn-out shoe, a milk carton or any other container that will hold dirt and won’t fall apart when it gets wet.

Make sure the container will drain; few plants like too much water. If necessary, you can drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of almost anything. Add about an inch of gravel or broken clay pots to the bottom of the pot. If you want to, you can put a layer of torn up newspaper or leaf mold on top of the gravel. The gravel helps ensure good drainage, and the leaf mold helps retain the water so the soil stays slightly moist.

Soil

Organic container gardening relies on organic, living soil. With a regular garden, you start with the soil you have and add organic material to it. With organic container gardening, you have to start out with organic soil.

Because you don’t have any subsoil, you need organic soil that will hold water without letting the plant’s roots get too wet. The best way to do that is to add peat moss to your organic soil. Compost and composted manure, mixed with peat moss, make great soil for organic container gardening. You can also use straight peat moss.

Plants

You can plant the same things in organic container gardening that you would in regular organic gardening. You can plant beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs, eggplant – anything you want to – just that they will be in containers. Make sure you have room for the plant, and that you use a container of the appropriate size. Zucchini takes up the same amount of room on your patio that it does in the garden – and it needs a pot big enough to contain the plant.

Technically, you should use organic seed and/or plants for organic container gardening. Unless you’re planning to sell organic produce, however, the choice is yours.

Organic Practices

Organic container gardening is well suited for organic gardening practices, especially where pest control is concerned. It’s much easier to pick tomato hornworms off of a container tomato than it is in a large garden. You can easily wash each leaf and stem of a plant with aphids when it’s in a pot on your patio. You will rarely have problems with cutworms in organic container gardening. Slugs will still go for your plants and diatomaceous earth will still deter them; just sprinkle it on the surface of the soil in the pot.

You can even use insect control with organic container gardening. Instead of buying a package of ladybugs or a praying mantis egg sac, just catch a few and put them on the plants that have insect infestations. Ladybugs will stay wherever there are aphids, and they will make short work of the aphids.

Organic container gardening will allow you to have plenty of healthy organic produce to feed your family. If you have a sheltered area and can provide enough light, you can have vegetables from organic container gardening all year round.

Check out my article below on Companion Planting, which also has a link to my companion planting list. This also works in container gardening.

And now I would like to offer you a Free copy of my Gardeners Journal so that you can easily document your gardening experience and track what you do. Click on “Subscribe to Master Gardener Girls’ Gardening Blog by Email” and I will send you a copy of this file.

Happy Gardening from Master Gardener Girl!!

Homemade Organic Fertilizer – Tips on How to Make It

Homemade organic fertilizer is healthier and cheaper. Here are a few tips and a recipe for making your own fertilizer and growing nutritious, delicious fruits and vegetables.

Best methods. For optimal results, treat your garden with a homemade fertilizer and compost. The two together make for excellent results and have been repeatedly successful.

Ingredients. The most important ingredients are bone meal, kelp meal, seed meal and various kinds of lime. It’s important when you’re making the fertilizer to measure by volume, not by weight. Meaning, by using measuring cups or a yogurt cup instead of using pounds. It doesn’t have to be exact measurements. The proportions can be over or under by 10 percent and still produce great results.

Recipe (mix uniformly with your hand or shovel,etc):
4 parts seed meal
1/2 part ordinary agricultural lime, best finely ground
1/2 part gypsum (or double the agricultural lime)
1/2 part dolomitic lime

For best results add:
1 part bone meal, rock phosphate or high-phosphate guano
1 part kelp meal (or 1 part basalt dust)

Cost. Buying your ingredients in bulk from farm or ranch stores, by mail order or online will often give you the most materials for your money. If you find a good source, like Yardiac.com
then go ahead and stock up once or twice a year. Garden shops, like Gardens Alive!generally sell ingredients in smaller, manageable quantities. If you can’t tell, I love those two websites…they have some of the best deals around.

Application. You can evenly spread 4 to 6 quarts of fertilizer per 100 square feet of raised garden bed (or for every 50 feet in a row, in a width of 12 to 18 inches) before planting each crop (or a minimum of once a year, spring being best). Work the fertilizer into the soil with a hoe or spade. For more demanding vegetables, such as tomatoes, sprinkle small quantities every few weeks around the plant after the original application.

If you think you will have extra, then premix in a plastic garbage can or plastic tote.

Happy Gardening!