Tag Archives: root vegetables

The Importance of Thinning Plants

Everyone complains about weeding but that may not be the worst gardening job. There’s nothing I dread more than having to thin my seedlings. Thinning isn’t the most labor intensive job but it feels sad to kill plants I’ve worked hard to keep healthy. However it is an incredibly important step if you want a good harvest.

While you may be tempted to plant to your desired spacing and avoid thinning altogether this is not ideal. First and most obviously, starting more seeds will ensure you get a harvest even if you have less than ideal germination. Secondly many plants thrive with a little competition in the beginning. Thinning is important for plants to grow well but in the beginning competing with other plants can make your seedlings more vigorous.

Ultimately though plants will need to be thinned. As plants grow they compete for resources and this can weaken them and hurt your harvests.

Thinning ensures growing plants have adequate space.

Some vegetables can be grown in small areas if they get enough other resources such as plentiful water and nutrients however there’s always a limit. For example, root vegetable harvests will suffer tremendously without optimum space. Avoiding thinning will leave you with spindly carrots and thumbnail size beets.

It ensures plants have proper air circulation.

If plants don’t have plenty of air circulation they can be prone to pest and disease issues.

Thinning also helps ensure healthy plants.

When you thin plants you should thin any that show any signs of weakness or disease. You want to keep your best plants for a productive harvest and if you choose to save seed you’ll know you’re saving from plants that performed the best from the start.

Plants that are properly thinned will get adequate water.

In some areas you may be able to provide plenty of water to thinly spaced plants however if you experience any droughts it’s always better to have a safety buffer.

Properly spaced plants will get enough nutrients.

While you can sometimes grow plants closer together than recommended if you are meticulous in your soil management and add a lot of amendments it’s not a always a good idea. If your plants have to compete with each other for nutrients they’ll be less productive and more prone to disease and pest issues.

Tips

  • To avoid damaging other plants roots as you thin you can just use scissors to cut your plants off as close to the ground as possible rather than pulling them.
  • Water your plants after thinning to ensure any that may have been disturbed re-establish well.
  • Check out this post to learn about when we thin corn plants.

Thinning plants is never easy but it must be done! Overall the best advice for thinning plants is simply, be ruthless. No one likes to thin their plants but trust me, a poor harvest will be more devastating than killing a few now.

Pin it for later.

How to Store Crops Without a Root Cellar

Tan Cheese Pumpkin

For many crops the preferred storage method negates the need for a root cellar. Anything that is canned, dried, or frozen can be kept right in your kitchen without any change from store bought groceries. However there are some crops that are stored fresh but require specific conditions. Things like winter squash, beets, and cabbages would have traditionally been kept in a root cellar. Unfortunately most modern houses don’t include that feature. Unless you’re ready to invest in building one, a little creativity can help keep your winter produce without a lot of effort.

Make a root clamp.

Root clamps are an old way of storing vegetables underground without an actual root cellar. They’re simple holes in the ground to store cabbages, potatoes, and other root vegetables. The vegetables can be layered with straw or hay, keeping a thick layer between them and the dirt to keep out any frost. On top is an especially thick layer followed by a couple whole bails to cover the top. You also want the straw or hay to be between each individual vegetable.

Today some people add an old cooler or clean trash can as a liner for the root clamp. Coolers however are not deep enough to avoid frost in cold climates.

Keep it in the garden.

In places where the ground doesn’t freeze very early storing root crops right in the garden can be an excellent choice. For crops like beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and radishes just leave them in their bed and cover them with a good amount of hay or straw. They can then be dug as needed.

You can also grow greens and brassicas through the winter by using cold frames, row cover, or backyard hoop or green houses.

Utilize cool places in your home.

Whether it’s a garage, a basement, under a bed, a certain cabinet, or a closet many of us have a spot in our home which stays rather cool. Crops like sweet potatoes, onions, and squashes that prefer cool, dry storage can just be stuck in baskets in these places. They will last longer if they aren’t piled up too much and have good air circulation.

Fruit crops like storage apples and pears can also be stored in this manner. However many people advise wrapping each individual fruit in newspaper to help them keep longer and discourage any rot from spreading.

Crops like potatoes, carrots, beets, and other roots that need damper conditions can also be stored in these same places. For these crops you’ll need containers and a packing material like shredded newspaper, straw, or sand. This material should then be kept damp (not wet!). You can use a spray bottle to add moisture as needed. You should trim the tops off the vegetables leaving about 1/2 inch then layer them in your container with your material in between so that none are touching.

Cabbages can be stored with their roots in damp sand or in just a basket like squash. They do better in damper places than squash does though.

Refrigerate root crops.

Root crops can also be refrigerated. For those with leafy tops trim the leaves to 1/2 inch. Potatoes also store well in the refrigerator.

Use them as decor.

Some squash, onions, and soft neck garlic store fairly well at room temperature and can double as some farmhouse type decor. Squash looks great on fall table settings and onions and garlic look gorgeous braided and hung in the kitchen or pantry.

Maintaining your storage crops.

It’s important to note that none of these methods are leave it and forget solutions. Even with a proper root cellar it’s important to periodically go through your produce and check for ones that are starting to rot or mold. If you don’t remove them the rot will spread to the rest hence the saying, “one bad apple can spoil the bunch.” Ideally you can catch them while they’re still useable.

You should also pay attention to your different varieties. From radishes to pumpkins different varieties have different storage capabilities. using varieties in order of how long you can expect them to keep is just another part of gardening and seasonal eating.

 

While these methods may not be as idyllic as a farmhouse root cellar they can work just as well. Keeping food properly in storage can help you save money on groceries, give you more self-sufficiency, and lessen your environmental impact. So pack your carrots in a container in the closet or store baskets of sweet potatoes under your bed, and stock that winter larder!

Fresh Greens to Harvest from Fall through Winter

Spinach with Leaf Mulch
Spinach with Leaf Mulch

By Ira Wallace

Fall and winter offer a second chance to grow all the delicious greens and wonderful roots we savor in spring. They’re even easier to grow, thanks to decreasing weed pressure and reduced need to water. Many winter greens, like kale, collards, and spinach, even taste sweeter in fall as they concentrate sugars to withstand colder temperatures.

Our garden is brimming with greens ready for harvest now, as well as younger plants that we won’t harvest until early spring when they will grow rapidly as the days begin to lengthen.

Elliot Coleman coined the term “Persephone Days” for the period when there is less than 10 hours a day of sunlight and plant growth slows to a halt. Typically November 21st through January  21st, or a little longer due of outside ground temperatures. So what you see in the garden now is what you get until early February for practical purposes, unless you are growing under cover in a greenhouse, cold frame or low tunnel.

With an extended drought and weeks of record breaking highs, 2016 was a really tough year for establishing our fall crops. In many cases we had to do a third succession planting to get the beds full of thriving plants. In the case of spinach and kale, our last and most successful sowing was in early October. For an idea of what and when we sow most years read our blog post on Summer Sowing: Continuous Harvest All Summer into Fall or look at our Southern Exposure Fall and Winter Growing Guide.

So let’s take a look at some of what we have green and growing in the garden on “Black Friday Weekend 2016”:

vates collards
vates collards

Kale, collards, and spinach are our largest plantings for winter greens because of their versatility in the kitchen and dependable winter hardiness. Because our earliest succession plantings had spotty germination we have a lot more plants from the later sowings. Luckily for us the unusually warm temperatures continued into November so we have nice full beds of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach and Lacinato Rainbow kale going into December. Fortunately half grown ”juvenile” plants often survive the winter and last longer into the spring. In addition to the heat and drought our collards were also attacked by grasshoppers in August so the remaining plants are smaller than usual at this time. Heirloom collards are survivors so I expect they will do well and start vigorous growth again in early spring.

tatsoi rosette
tatsoi rosette

We have already harvested many of our oriental greens for stir-frying and to make Kimchee, but our Tatsoi greens are still looking and tasting great. In winter we enjoy the shiny dark green leaves in salads, stir-frys and soups. One interesting thing with the spotty germination on some of our early sowings is how large the plants can get in fall and still be sweet and tender.

creasy greens
creasy greens

Another favorite green for us and many others in our region are Creasy Greens and their cousin from grower Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in the Northwest, Belle Isle Cress. They are lightly spicy and crisp in winter. Take care as they will naturalize if left in the garden to produce seed.

Let’s not forget Arugula, another winter salad favorite.

lettuce in the hoophouse at Twin Oaks
lettuce in the hoophouse at Twin Oaks

We also grow a lot of winter lettuce. I especially like red varieties for the deep color they develop in winter. Outredgeous and the Wild Garden Lettuce mix are favorites that have been joined by the heirloom Crawford, a Texas winter salad Lettuce.

We still have some winter roots in the ground: carrots, beets, salsify, parsnip and winter radishes. We have potatoes and sweet potatoes in storage.

Maybe we can look at what we still have canned, dried, fermented and frozen sometime soon. Until then enjoy your garden.