Cole crops are a group of cool season vegetables. The word "cole" means stem and has nothing to do with the fact that these vegetables are tolerant to the "cold."
All of these crops can trace their history to a common ancestry of wild cabbage originating in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor area.
Broccoli and cauliflower are the only vegetables that are also flowers! Also, Ancient Chinese used to eat cabbage to try to cure baldness.
Some varieties of herbs and vegetables are natural companions and help each other in the garden. For instance, Native American tribes learned early that planting corn, pole beans and squash together resulted in great success. This trio was known as "The Three Sisters". Each plant helped the other two in its own way: the corn plant was tall and sturdy enough for the beans to climb upon and grow; the beans fixed nitrogen into the surrounding soil for the other plants; and the squash shaded the ground, keeping in vital moisture. In addtion, the squash plants have prickly stems which helped to discourage hungry pests like raccoons from eating the corn.
The companion chart shows what varieties can be planted together and which plants should be avoided for each variety. It is always recommended that crops be rotated each year to keep the soil fertile and free from disease.
For those who may not have the space for a vegetable or herb garden, container gardening is an ideal solution. Even if you have a vegetable garden, containers can be used to grow certain specialty vegetables or herbs that may have been left out when planning your garden. Container gardens are perfect for patios or balconies that receive at least 8 hours of sun each day.
Planning your planting is as important for container gardening as it is for a larger garden. For example, tomatoes, peppers and squash are typically larger plants with deep root systems that will require a larger container in which to grow. Smaller plants such as lettuce and strawberries are ideally suited for more shallow containers. Larger plants generally prefer a container depth of 18" to 24", while smaller plants will be right at home in containers with a depth of 12".
With that in mind, the shape and style of the container should be whatever best fits your available space and personal tastes. Many styles and sizes of containers are available, ranging from oak half-barrel planters to a vast assortment of wooden, plastic and terra-cotta planters. Be sure that your container of choice has holes in the bottom to allow for proper drainage.
Before planting your container garden, cover the drainage holes with a piece of fine mesh or window screen to keep the soil in and let the water drain out. Use a good commercial potting mix to fill your containers. Garden soils often become hard and compacted in containers and should not be used. Potting mixes are typically rich in nutrients and are fast-draining.
When planting your container gardens, remember to stake or trellis plants like tomatoes, squash and cucumbers to allow them to grow vertically and give your smaller plants more room to grow. Containers can be planted in cuisine themes or as a collection of favorites. For example, a half-barrel planter could contain a tomato of your choice, an eggplant, leaf lettuce, head lettuce and arugula. Large fruits like watermelon are difficult to grow on a trellis but, if you have enough room, they can be allowed to sprawl out of the container. There is no right or wrong combination for container gardens, so keep your container sizes in mind and be creative.
Remember to fertilize your container gardens every 2 to 3 weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer for vegetable gardens. Water your containers when the top 2 to 3 inches of soil becomes dry.
Cucumbers are a member of the cucurbitaceae family, which also includes melons and squashes.
Cucumbers are classified as either slicing or pickling type. The pickling varieties can be eaten fresh also, but they also hold their texture well in processing.
The bush type of cucumbers grow well in containers. Redwood or plastic containers work better than clay because cucumbers need a lot of water and clay pots lose a lot of water out the sides. Black pots will get too hot in the sun, so avoid that color. Make sure the pot has drainage holes in the bottom, and if possible, elevate the pot 4 inches off the ground.
Cucumbers originated in India and have been cultivated for about 3,000 years in Western Asia. Records of cucumber cultivation appear in France in the 9th century, England in the 14th century, and in North America by the mid-16th century.
Most of the distinct types of cucumber grown today were known at least 400 years ago. Present forms range from thick, stubby little fruits, three to four inches long, up to the great English greenhouse varieties that often reach a length of nearly two feet.
The most popular European and American varieties now have smooth, dark-green skin. Some Russian varieties are short, thick, and have a rough, netted brown skin. Large white varieties of a thick, irregular shape were grown in France in the 19th century for use in cosmetics. That form is supposed to have reached northern Europe from Spain.
Eggplant is a small to medium bush type vegetable that produces smooth, glossy skinned fruit that can vary in length from 5 to 12 inches long.
The varieties offered in the Homegrown Gourmet line of veggies includes Eggplant Black Beauty, Eggplant Gretel (All-America Selections Winner), and Eggplant Ichiban.
Whole eggplant will keep in a well-ventilated place for up to a week at 50 F. It is best not to refridgerate eggplant.
The place of origin is not known, but it is believed to be Southeastern India or possibly China. Around the ninth century, Arab agriculturalists brought eggplant to the Mediterranean.
The eggplant was treated with suspicion at first. The medieval Arab toxicologist Ibn Wahshiya (circa 940) said it was fatal if eaten raw. He was mistaken, but his advice was taken to heart in medieval Europe for many centuries.
Fall is a great time to savor your successes from the garden (and record any failures). It's also the time to clean-up and organize for the next spring.
A gardener's notebook is a great way to keep track of what you planted (include a sketch of the garden). Make notes on what you liked, what you didn't like, what you want to plant more of for next year, and if you have any perennials, where they are located so you aren't surprised in the spring!
To get your garden ready for winter, follow these simple steps:
Other fall clean-up suggestions include the following:
SOIL TEST: Get a soil test -- now is a great time to test your soil to check pH levels. If needed, you can change it by using the proper amounts of lime this fall.
STAKES/TRELLISES: Take down stakes and trellises to clean and store for next spring.
PESTICIDES: Check expiration dates of pesticides and dispose of any that will expire over the winter. Store pesticides in a cool, dry, safe place.
GARDEN TOOLS: Clean, sand and oil garden tools before storing them for the winter.
Kids are naturally curious - use this to your advantage! With the rate of obesity in children creeping up each year, getting your child interested in fruits and vegetables is a great way to combat this trend. One way to get kids interested is by including them in the decision-making process involved with planning their meals. If you already grow a vegetable and/or herb garden at home (or plan to start one), here are a few ways to get your child involved:
The second option is really ideal, because then he will take ownership of the plants and be excited to see the finished product. You can choose plants that you know he already likes, or add some unusual varieties that would be fun to test out. Planting a garden around a theme is also a good idea (such as a "pizza" garden or a "stone soup" garden). Be sure to offer guidance in choosing plants - you want to make sure some "sure-successes" plants are in the plan. However, if there is a disaster and your plants don't produce, use this as a learning experience and work together to figure out what went wrong and how to be successful next time.
When planting the crops, relax your standards - crooked rows and some weeks are okay. Also, take the time to examine what you find while digging, such as worms and other bugs. Teach your child that some bugs are helpful while others are destructive. Keep in mind that you might have to do some behind the scenes maintenance (weed pulling, pest control, watering) - it's tough to expect kids to take care of all the upkeep.
Safety is always important when working with children, regardless of their age. Gardens can be fun and exciting, but there are some inherent dangers. It's impossible to avoid all potential hazards, but keep these things in mind as you get started: (1) learn as much as you can about your garden environment; (2) teach your children what's safe and what's not; and (3) always keep an eye on your children.
Chemicals - never let children apply fertilizers, weed killers or insecticides. If you plan to use any chemicals, read the label regarding application and keep children away when applying and as recommended after the application.
Tools - make sure the size of the tool matches the size of the child. Before giving any tools to children, show them the proper (safe) way to use them. Always monitor children when using any type of tool.
Water - watering your plants is a must, but remember that even a small bucket of water can be dangerous for small children. Always supervise children around water.
Allergies - some plants may cause allergic reactions that were unknown before you started gardening. If a rash or other sign of an allergy appears, contact your doctor and bring a list of plants and any chemicals you've been using to help determine the cause of the reaction. During the planning phase of your gardening experience, it is recommended that you research your plants to determine any possible health risks or poisonous parts.
Many adult gardeners started gardening as children. To help instill your love of gardening into your kids, share your knowledge and passion and hopefully it will catch on. If you are a novice gardener yourself, this is a great hobby to share with children. Kids love learning and working together to learn about plants and nature is a wonderful project to do together.
Other tips for gardening with your children:
Garden Journals - To keep the kids interested until the fruits are ready to harvest, have them start a garden journal. They can draw pictures of what the plants look like at different stages and even what type of bugs visited. Make sure to include what they like most about gardening.
Location, Location, Location - It's important in gardens, too. Pick a sunny spot in the backyard near where the kids play and often walk by. The more they see their garden, the more they'll notice the changes. Keep the space to about no more than about 4' by 4'. If you don't have a yard, you can still have a garden in pots on a patio or inside on a windowsill.
Playing with Dirt - Most kids love playing in the dirt. Let them help you prepare the soil, even if all they are capable of is stomping on the clumps. Kid-sized tools will make them feel even more a part of the project.
Identify the Garden as Theirs - Mark each plant with the tag it came with, so the kids can see what the vegetables will look like. Also, make a sign for the whole garden with the child's name, so everyone can see that it's their garden.
Playing with Water - Playing with water is right up there with playing with dirt. Give the kids a small watering can to use on their garden. Show them how to gently let the water go right to the roots of the plants. Hoses are just asking for trouble - they are too heavy for little hands to control.
Include the Whole Environment - You can also teach them about mulching and composting by letting them spread grass clippings and shredded leaves around their plants to conserve water and help feed the plants. Don't forget to point out any interesting insects.
Patience is a Virtue - Kids don't have a lot of patience and they may try to pull up their radishes just to see if they are ready. Let them keep tabs this way - use the garden journal to mark progress and if they just can't wait to try that radish, let them and then they can compare the taste of a small, not-quite-ready radish to one that is ready.
Let Them Make Their Own Mistakes - Sometimes adults don't have a lot of patience either. Let the kids have control of their garden. If it's messy, it's their mess. Let them enjoy it and take pride in their own piece of land.
Herbs are an extremely diverse group of plants that have been in use for thousands of years for a variety of purposes including culinary, medicinal, perfumes and potpourri, and as a natural insect repellant.
Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow for novices and experts alike, and can be grown in the garden, in pots on a sunny kitchen windowsill or in patio containers.
Herbs are a wonderful addition to the garden. Over the years, they have played an important role in medicinal, ornamental and culinary fields, but please note: Our selection of herbs in the Homegrown Gourmet line are NOT intended for any medicinal purposes. Although we have taken care to provide a wide selection of herbs, their main attractions are their decorative, aromatic and culinary additions to your garden and cooking. New research is constantly updating which herbs are safe for human consumption and which are not. When in doubt, always investigate before ingesting any questionable plants.
Although many herbs are great for cooking, some are also good in the garden simply because they provide a nice aroma. The herbs that have a nice aroma in the garden are listed under the "aromatic" category, even though the mints, lavender and lemon balm can be used in cooking also.
Culinary vs. Aromatic -
Culinary- Arugula Rocket, Basil Boxwood, Basil Genovese, Basil Lemon, Basil Sweet, Chamomile German, Chives, Coriander/Cilantro, Dill, Dill Fernleaf, Nasturtium, Oregano, Oregano Greek, Parsley Curled, Parsley Flat Italian, Rosemary, Sage, Sage Golden, Stevia, Sweet Marjoram, Tarragon, Thyme
Aromatic - Catnip, Lavender Munstead, Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Rue, Spearmint
Culinary herbs such as chives, basil, rosemary, and thyme can be used to add spice to any recipe. Aromatic herbs like lavender, mint, and varieties of sage and thyme are useful in creating home made potpourris or your own aromatherapy spa. Some herbs, including chamomile, peppermint and spearmint are ideal for steeping to make delicious and nutritious teas.
Herbs have been around since the prehistoric days. Ancient Roman and Greeks used them to crown their heads. They have been used to preserve meat, season food, mask the odors of people who did not bathe regularly (Middle Ages), and American Indians often used them for tanning and dyeing leather. All medicines in ancient times (and even today) were made from some type of herb.
In the olden days, herbs were used for many other purposes, such as warding off witches and spirits, creating love potions, curing baldness and freckles, and increasing your luck before gambling!
Lettuce is one of those crops whose fresh-picked taste simply can't be equaled by anything you can buy at the grocery store.
We grow three types of lettuce in our Homegrown Gourmet program (Loose-leaf, Romaine, Head).
Loose-leaf - (Red Salad Bowl) - grow tender leaves in dense rosettes but seldom form crisp inner heads.
Romaine - (Freckles) - Elongated leaves with stiff ribs. Often tolerate stressful weather better than other types.
Head - (Summertime) - These varieties have great flavor and are easy to grow.
The oldest known type of lettuce is probably similar to what is now called Prickly Lettuce. Wild lettuce, dating as far back as 4500 B.C. had bitter but edible leaves and its milky sap was taken from the stem and used to help insomnia and relieve rashes.
Did You Know... -
If you harvest lettuce in the morning, it will have a higher sugar content than if harvested in the afternoon.
We offer 3 different varieties of melons in our Homegrown Gourmet line of veggies: Ambrosia (cantaloupe), Lambkin (All-America Selections Winner), and Crimson Sweet (watermelon). Melons are full of vitamin C and are up to 94% water.
Melons have been enjoyed for more than 4,000 years, but the first documented use of the word "melon" was in 1395. The word melon comes from "Melos" - the Greek Cyclades Islands, best known for the Venus de Milo.
Did You Know... -
Surprisingly, melons have never been found growing in the wild. They are believed to have originated in the hot valleys of Southwest Asia.
Onions are an edible bulb. They are members of the allium family along with chives, garlic, leeks, shallots and ornamental alliums. Onion bulbs are round or oblong and are composed of concentric layers. They can either have a pungent smell or be quite sweet, depending on the variety.
Some onions are sensitive to day length, while other can grow regardless of the day length (how much daylight there is when onions stop forming).
Short Day Onions (10 to 12 hours) - Red Burgundy
Long Day Onions (14 to 16 hours) - Walla Walla
Day Neutral - Candy
To grow bulb onions in a container, make sure to use a container that is at least 8 to 10 inches deep.
Although it is believed that onions originated in Asia, it is likely they have been growing wildly on every continent for 5000 years or more. It is likely that onions were one of the earliest cultivated crops because they were less perishable than other foods at the time.
Onions were not just a source of food, however. In Egypt, onions were worshipped - they symbolized eternity because of the circle within a circle anatomy. They were also used frequently as medicine. In Ancient Greece, the athletes in the Olympic Games would consume pounds of onions, drink onion juice and rub onions all over their bodies.
Onions that mature in cool weather tend to be sweeter, while those maturing in hot weather are stronger flavored.
If you want to store onions over the winter, you can cure them by hanging them in a well-aired place. Mesh bags or strings can be used to group and hang onions and they should hang for about 3 to 4 weeks.
In the U.S., sweet bell peppers are by far the most popular, but hot peppers such as jalapeno, cayenne and chilis are growing in popularity.
We offer several varieties of both hot peppers and bell peppers in our Homegrown Gourmet line of veggies.
Hot - Ancho Villa, Cajun Belle, Cayenne, Garden Salsa, Habanero, Hungarian Hot, Jalapeno, Serrano Chili, Super Chili, Thai Hot, Zavory
Sweet/Bell - Big Bertha, California Wonder, Fooled You Jalapeno, Giant Marconi, Gypsy, Ivory Bell, Lady Bell, Purple Beauty, Red Bell, Romanian Sweet, Sweet Banana, Valencia Orange, Yellow Bell
Originating in Central and South America, peppers have been a part of the diet in this region since around 7500 BC and were domesticated between 5200 and 2400 BC, becoming one of the first cultivated crops of the Americas.
Discovered by Columbus in the Caribbean, peppers were so named because of the similarity in taste with the Old World spice of the same name. Through commerce and trade, the pepper quickly spread to Europe, the Philippines, India, China and Japan where it was incorporated into the local cuisines.
In general, peppers are a good source of most B vitamins and vitamin B6, in particular, as well as being high in potassium, magnesium and iron. Red chiles are also rich in vitamin C and vitamin A.
The substance that gives peppers their heat is called capsicum, the primary ingredient in pepper spray. The heat of peppers is measured in Scoville Units; Bell Peppers rank at zero Scoville units, Jalapenos at 3,000-6,000 units, and Habaneros at 300,000 units.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the pepper with the highest number of Scoville units is the Red Savina Habanero, measuring 577,000 units.
Getting your garden ready for spring really starts in the winter. If you are a seasoned pro at growing vegetables, or a first-timer, planning is one of the best ways to ensure success in the garden.
Designing a vegetable garden is more about which vegetables grow well near each other, than about how things look. Some vegetables will excrete substances that can inhibit other plants growth. Tall vegetables can shade out shorter vegetables. Vegetables in the same family will attract the same pests and need to be moved around each year.
The good news is that most vegetables have similar growing requirements, so when you are deciding where to put your vegetable garden, you can follow these guidelines:
Sun - Vegetables are sun lovers. Most will grow their best with 6-8 hours or more of direct sunlight. Leafy greens can handle less sun, and crops that prefer cool weather, like lettuce, will continue to grow throughout the summer if shaded by taller plants. However, you will want to choose a full sun location for your vegetable garden.
Access - Ideally your vegetable garden should be close to both a source of water and your kitchen. Vegetables will need water on a regular schedule. If they are watered erratically they will exhibit problems like cracking open, not setting any fruit or becoming prone to cultural problems like blossom end rot.
Proximity to the kitchen or at least easily accessible from some entrance to the house will give you the incentive to remember to water and check on your garden every day. You'll also be more tempted to run out and pick something fresh while you're cooking if your garden is near the kitchen.
Soil - Soil is the most important factor in any garden and perhaps more so in a vegetable garden. Annual vegetables spend their entire season producing flowers and fruits. They are very heavy feeders and a rich soil will not just keep them growing strong, it will also help ward off disease and pest problems. The soil in your vegetable garden should be rich in organic matter, which should be replenished every year. Compost and composted manure can be added in spring and/or fall. A soil test should be conducted periodically to identify if any other amendments need to be added or if the soil pH needs to be adjusted.
An easy way to ensure great soil for your vegetable garden is to create raised beds. Raised beds simply mean the soil you are growing in is higher than the ground level by 6 or more inches. You can pile it between paths or create elaborate structures, but raised beds allow you to control the soil in the planting area, it never gets stepped on and compacted, it drains well and it warms up faster in the spring, so you can plant earlier.
One final consideration when looking at your soil is to be aware of drainage and run-off. Vegetables don't like to sit in wet soil, so if your soil is heavy the texture will need to be improved. Hopefully the organic matter will make a dent. You also don't want all the nutrients you add to simply run off elsewhere. If your site isn't level, you'll need to create run-off barriers. Similarly, you don't want water from less favorable sources, like the driveway, running into your vegetable garden.
Tools - Vegetable gardening can be broken down into 2 stages: (1) preparing the garden and (2) caring for the plants. Creating the garden requires turning a lot of soil. The basic tools needed for preparing the garden are the following: a shovel, a fork, a trowel and a tiller. To care for the plants, the tools required include the following: a hoe, a hose and nozzle or some type of irrigation system, stakes, twine and pruners.
Fencing - One last thing to consider is fencing. Fencing can be an eye sore and a hassle, but will be beneficial to keep animals out of the garden. Protecting your vegetable garden from animals without a fence is an endless battle. In fact, you might need fencing both above and below the garden because many animals will burrow under a fence and some, like prairie dogs, will pop up anywhere.
Organization is the key to a successful garden. Making sure to plan the layout, have the proper tools available and preparing the soil ahead of the spring thaw will give your garden the best chance at producing delicious vegetables.
Nothing can take the fun out of gardening faster than disease-ridden plants. The most prudent and useful advice is to start with plants that have good disease resistance. Other things that can be done to help control problems include the following:
Common diseases to be on the look out for include the following:
Anthracnose - Caused by a fungus, Colletotrichum orbiculare, it can attack and affect many garden plants, especially cucumbers, cantaloupe and tomatoes. Look for yellow spots and water-soaked areas on leaves and fruits. It is most prominent in the hot temperatures and humidity of August.
Bacterial Wilt - Mainly affecting squash and cucumbers, this is caused by a bacterium, Erwinia tracheiphila, which clogs the vascular system of the plants. Watch for wilting leaves and branches, and if you know the plant has adequate moisture, suspect Bacterial Wilt. This is spread by the cucumber beetle. They can overwinter and emerge in the spring, carrying the bacterium in the digestive tract. The beetles eat the leaves, exposing the plant to their excrement that infects the plants.
Powdery Mildew - Caused by a fungus, it can affect many plants, especially your vine crops. Very fast moving, it can infest your plants in as little as 3 days. Hot, dry days and cool, humid nighs can contribute to the spread. As the name implies, it looks like someone has sprinkled powder on the plants. Crowded plants with poor air circulation are the most susceptible. There are many different types of powdery mildew, each being host specific (each affects only a certain type of plant) but each will multiply under the same conditions. Spores are produced continually and released into the air.
Verticillium Wilt - Caused by a soil-borne fungus, it can affect a numer of different vegetables in the garden, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants. If your garden space is affected, use a long rotation period (4-6 years) avoiding the above plants in the area. Also avoid strawberries and raspberries, which are highly susceptible.
Squash is part of the cucumber family, Cucurbita, which also includes gourds and pumpkins. The squash have large, broad leaves and 4 to 6 stems or short veins that grow from one central root.
Summer vs. Winter -
Summer - Produces thin-skinned fruit that is eaten with the skin on. Does not sotre well. Homegrown Gourmet varieties: Yellow Straightneck and Zucchini
Winter - Produces fruit with a thick skin and can be stored for long periods, into the winter months. The skin of winter squash is not eaten. Homegrown Gourmet variety: Spaghetti
Cultivation began in South America and seeds eventually made it to Native Americans. With the arrival of the Europeans to America, squash seeds were quickly utilized and shared. Before long, winter squash was growing in gardens around the world.
Almost all pumpkin weigh-offs also have a category for giant squash? Giant squash can grow over 1,000 pounds!
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tomatoes are the most popular home-grown vegetable in the country.
Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties that have been around for a long time. They are popular for their historical interest and their amazing flavor. However, they are more prone to cracking and tend to have a lower disease resistance than the new hybrid varieties.
Tomatoes are considered either Early, Mid or Late season, depending on how long it takes the fruits to be ready for harvest once planted. Here is the breakdown of the Homegrown Gourmet Tomatoes:
Early (65 days or less) - Celebrity, Early Girl, Grape Red, Lizzano, Sugary
Mid (66 to 79 days) - Amish Paste, Better Boy, Best Bush, Big Beef, Big Boy, Black Krim, Health Kick, Lemon Boy, Patio, Pink Girl, Roma, Roma Golden, Rutgers, Sun Gold, Sweet 100, White Cherry, Whopper
Late (80 or more days) - Arkansas Traveler, Beefmaster, Beefsteak, Brandywine Pink, Brandywine Red, Cherokee Purple, Country Taste, German Johnson, Golden Jubilee, Green Zebra, Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, Pineapple, San Marzano
Determinate / Indeterminate -
Determinate - Bush-type plant that will produce all fruits at one time and then stop producing. Some varieties require staking.
Indeterminate - These tomatoes require staking due to their vigorous growth. They produce fruits continually throughout the season.
All tomatoes will grow well in containers as long as a large enough container is used for the larger fruit.
Native to Central and South America, from Mexico to Peru, the tomato was brought back to Europe by Spanish explorers after the conquest of South America. Easily grown in Mediterranean climates, the tomato was being cultivated in Spain in the 1540s and was a popular food source by the early 1600s. Other European cultures, however, believed the tomato, a member of the Solanum family that included the deadly nightshade plant, to be as poisonous as its botanical cousins. This misconception lasted well into the 1700s and was even carried over to the British American colonies. By the end of the 1700s however, tomatoes were regularly used as food and were even regarded as having medicinal properties, a theory that has resurfaced in recent years as tomatoes have been found to be beneficial to the heart. In addition, tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a natural anti-oxidant that has been found to benefit the prevention of certain types of cancer.
While, botanically, tomatoes are considered a fruit, they are generally thought of and used as a vegetable since they are more likely to be part of a sauce or salad than eaten whole as a snack or dessert.
The heaviest tomato on record was of the Delicious variety and weighed in at 7 lbs. 12oz. (3.51kg), grown by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.
Nothing beats the satisfaction of eating fresh vegetables direct from your own garden. With proper planning, preparation and planting, you can be well on your way to enjoying the fruits of your labor.
General Information for the Following Veggies: