All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

The Importance of Sustainable Soil Management

Your garden harvest starts with healthy soil. How much produce you get, whether your plants are affected by disease, and even how many pests you have can be affected by how you treat your soil. But how you manage your soil can also affect wildlife and the environment.

Algal Blooms

On this blog, we’ve frequently discussed the importance of mulch and cover crops. They are two simple ways to help prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff. While these effects are obviously bad for your garden they also have more far-reaching consequences. When soil and nutrients erode they contribute to algal blooms in streams, lakes, rivers, and eventually the ocean. 

Algal blooms can be green, red, blue, or brown. They affect both marine and freshwater environments and produce toxins that have a variety of negative effects. The toxins can sicken or kill people and animals, create dead zones in the water, raise treatment costs for drinking water, and hurt industries that depend on clean water. One way we can prevent these algal blooms is to practice good soil management.

Good Soil Practices

Sustainable soil management means using practices that build healthy soil, reduce erosion, and reduce the need for fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides. They include:

  • Planting cover crops, especially in the fall to prevent erosion and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
  • Using mulch around plants whenever possible to prevent erosion, suppress weeds, hold moisture, and add nutrients and organic matter to the soil.  
  • Rotating crops to disrupt disease and pest life cycles and reduce excess nutrients.
  • Reducing soil compaction which helps fungal and insect life in soil thrive. Whenever possible reduce tilling and using equipment. 
  • Providing habitat for beneficial insects like cover crops, mulch, wildflower patches, and insect hotels.

While small gardeners and farmers are not the biggest contributors to this type of pollution every little bit helps. Making these small changes can improve your garden, improve water quality, and help wildlife.

Fall Harvest: 5 Ways to Use Green Tomatoes

Fall is a beautiful time of year but it does bring an end to summertime, heat-loving veggies. If a frost is in the forecast for your area, it’s time to pick any green tomatoes that are still in your garden. While crops like winter squash and pumpkins simply need to be cured for winter storage figuring out what to do with crates of green tomatoes can be a bit tougher. Here are 5 ways you can use them up.

Fried Green Tomatoes

The classic way to serve green tomatoes is battered and fried and for good reason! Fried green tomatoes are delicious. If you’ve never had them, give this simple recipe a try.

Combine 1 egg with 1/2 cup of milk. In a separate dish whisk together 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 1 tsp of garlic powder or a couple cloves of fresh minced garlic. You can also add a touch of chili powder or other spices to taste. In another dish, set out 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Slice 2-4 tomatoes into 1/4 – 1/2 inch slices. 

Dunk each slice into the plain flour, then the egg and milk, and then the cornmeal mixture. Preheat a cast iron pan with 1/4 inch of vegetable oil. Drop tomatoes into the hot oil and fry on each side until golden-brown.

Ripen Tomatoes

If you’ve got space to keep them fresh you can also ripen your green tomatoes. All you need to do is lay them out in a single layer, so they’re not touching. Store them at room temperature and check them at least often to use any that are ripening and remove any that are rotting. Any blemished tomatoes should be used immediately because they’ll probably rot before they ripen. 

Some varieties of tomatoes are made to ripen slowly, off the vine to provide fresh winter tomatoes. Learn more about the storage tomatoes we offer here.

Pickled Green Tomatoes

If you love pickles why not try pickled green tomatoes? Pickles are a simple way to preserve the harvest, even for beginning canners. If you’re not into canning you can also make “quick pickles” meaning you just refrigerate them rather than water bath canning them. In a refrigerator, they’ll still keep for a long time. Garden Betty has four awesome recipes.

Green Tomato Relish

Also called chow chow, green tomato relish used to be a common recipe. Green tomato relish was used through the winter to add flavor to all sorts of dishes from meats to sandwiches. Stone Axe Herbals has easy green tomato relish and green tomato salsa recipes that are worth checking out.

Freezing Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes are also quite simple to freeze, perfect for making fried green tomatoes throughout the winter! Select firm, unblemished tomatoes and slice them 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Lay the slices in a container with wax or freezer paper in between layers. 

Eating food from our gardens forces us to slow down and appreciate our food. This fall don’t let any of your harvest go to waste. Try one or two of these ideas to use up your green tomatoes. 

3 Reasons to Transplant Lettuce

Lettuce is a perfect crop for cool season gardening. The incredible array of varieties brings a colorful assortment to fall, winter, and spring meals. As you’re planting your fall crops there are a number of lettuces to choose from. You can sow loose leaf mixes, romaine, bibb, or crisphead lettuce. If you’re growing a heading variety you may want to consider starting your lettuce indoors and transplanting seedlings out.

  1. Better germination.

    Starting a fall garden often means seeding cool weather crops in hot weather. Starting seeds indoors, in a cool place typically means better germination rates. Lettuce doesn’t need light to germinate so you can set them in a basement or root cellar even if it’s dark until they germinate. Alternatively you can set them in the refrigerator for the first night.

  2. No wasted space.

    Having reliable, healthy seedlings means you waste less space in your garden. When you’re planting a fall garden you’re often dealing with restricted space, only planting what you have a cold frames, row cover, or a hoop house to protect. You also have a relatively small window to get crops started. Setting out transplants means that you can make the most of every square in of your garden. You won’t have patches where seed failed to germinate as we discussed above.

  3. More time.

    Having transplants started also means that that you have a little more leeway for when you plant. It’s essential to get fall crops started on time so that they get established before the temperatures drop.

 

Growing Transplants

Start your lettuce in flats or soil blocks of moist, quality potting mix. Keep them somewhere cool at least until they germinate. Once germinated your lettuce should be placed under lights or somewhere they get direct sunlight. Lettuce should be transplanted when the plants are between 2-3 inches tall.

Transplanting

You should harden off your lettuce plants 7-10 days before transplanting. Bring them outdoors for a few hours, increasing the length of time each day. Prepare your bed by loosening the soil and adding compost if available.

Plant your lettuce at the same depth as they were in the pot. Even if they’re leggy, don’t bury the stem. Lettuce stems won’t grow roots like tomatoes and some other plants. Water them in after planting and keep the soil moist especially as they get established. Be sure to have your season extenders ready to go in case of frost.