Sunday, February 28, 2016

Vegetable Zen

Whenever I come across a vegetable for my garden that grows well on its own and is not attacked by a myriad of pests, I am delighted. One that I have been growing for a couple of years now and fits this category is called Zen. 

It is a hybrid in the genus Brassica (Mustard).  Scientifically it is Brassica rapa x brassica oleracea capitata, a hybrid cross between cabbage and Oriental mustard spinach (Komatsuna). The species Brassica oleracea includes vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Brassica rapa includes turnups, napa cabbage, mizuna, bok choi and tatsoi.

This new fast growing, mildly sweet green can be picked and enjoyed 30 days from sowing. Zen resembles collard greens, but the leaves are larger and more tender, much like lettuce but with a rich, savory taste. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and C and is resistant to bolting in the summer heat. Early to harvest, zen is dependable for picking all year long in suitable climates.

The leaves can be used at any stage: young leaves in salads, and large leaves used in soups, stir fry, and pickling, or simply steamed or boiled. Plants produce oblong-shaped dark green leaves with thick main stems and many side shoots.  
The Oriental green, zen hybrid grows as an annual but will live more than one year. The plants thrive in full sun and require water often. No wonder they grow well in tropical areas. Zen tends to grow best in a soil pH between 5.4 and 7.7.

Photo: Zen hybrid from Burpee

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tips for the Beginning Gardener

Starting a vegetable garden? 

Here are some fundamental points to help cultivate success: 

·        Gardeners need only as large a garden as they can easily maintain. Novices often give up gardening because they plant too much and find themselves overwhelmed with many of the garden chores: planting, weeding, pest control, soil preparation. 

·        For some people, it’s a good idea to plan the garden on paper before tilling the earth. 

·        For those with minimal space, grow crops that produce the maximum amount of food for the area.  Radishes, onions, lettuce, bok choy and tomatoes usually produce abundantly in a small space.  On the other hand, plants like pineapple, watermelon and pumpkin squash require more room.

·        Gardeners need to choose recommended varieties for their area.  The University of Hawaii CTAHR seed program,, develops and sells vegetable seeds suitable for the Hawaiian Islands; in Hawaii, begin with these varieties.  For other areas in the United States, the local University Extension Service will have recommended varieties.

·        The best garden sites should receive at least 8 hours of full sun each day; in other words, vegetables will not grow as well if shaded by trees, walls or fences. Nearby trees and shrubs, with roots reaching into the vegetable patch will also compete for water and nutrients.

·        Level ground is easier to manage, but if the land is sloping, the rows need to be planted across the slope, not up and down.  This will help keep the soil from washing away during heavy rains.

·         A garden that is located within easy walking distance to the house is convenient for carrying tools and eventually returning with baskets of produce. 

·        For those with smaller gardens, growing crops vertically will take less space than those grown horizontally. Vining crops such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and pole beans can be trellised or staked to maximize space and increase garden productivity. Wooden structures, stakes, twine, wire cages or nearby wire fences are useful supports.

·        Perennial vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus need to be planted to one side of the garden so they are not disturbed as the ground is prepared for subsequent annual crop.

·        Tall crops such as corn should be planted on the north side so they don’t shade low growing vegetables.

·        And finally, succession planting is a good gardener’s method to assure continual harvest.  A crop like tomatoes can be harvested over a long period of time. Therefore one planting will last for many months. However, with other crops like corn, beets, lettuce and turnips, the entire crop will mature at approximately the same time. With a crop like corn, staggering the plantings at one to two week intervals will enable harvesting ears over a longer period of time.

An additional note: because corn is wind pollinated, it should be densely planted in order to achieve good pollination.  Planting just a few corn plants will likely result in ears that lack a full complement of kernels which is a sign of a lack of pollination.  Plantings of a minimum of 3-4 short rows will be pollinated more successfully than 1 or 2 long rows. It is best to plant 3-4 rows, about 8 feet long.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Cardboard Pest Control

With the increase of online shopping everything from abacus to xylophones arrive in cardboard boxes. What to do with them? A simple solution combines recycling and soil nutrition and weed, slug and snail control!

Cardboard boxes can be broken down and placed on the ground for excellent weed control; without sunlight the weeds will not grow.  Some perennial weeds, especially those grasses with 'runner roots', although they will not grow under the cardboard, they will not be eliminated.

Most gardeners know that mollusks (slugs and snails) are a major pest. They are able to destroy seedlings and devour well-established plants.
Several control measures are available including chemical baits, trap boards, sanitation, even chickens and ducks. A trap board is a manageable size board, perhaps 12 inches by 12 inches,  placed on the ground near slug and snail activity. Place one end of the board on a small rock, or another object in order to give it enough lift for the slugs to crawl under. This board then becomes a good hiding place for the slugs and snails which can periodically be scraped off and disposed.

Under the category of trap boards, we can also utilize cardboard boxes. Simply break down all the boxes and place them in the garden in an area where slug damage is frequent; preferably in the shade, although not necessary. To escape the heat of the day, the snails and slugs will seek shelter and hide under the cardboard. Periodically, check under the boxes, collect and dispose of them.

Over time, the cardboard itself will breakdown contributing toward a healthy soil. Some white fuzzy growth on the cardboard are various species of fungi which help it decompose. They will not harm the plants and are a benefit to the soil.

The one drawback to this method is that the boxes will not add much to the beauty of the landscape; wood chips or other organic compost can be layer on top of the cardboard.  For more details on controlling slugs and snails see article at this site entitled Slugs and Snails.