Seasonal Shifts

As much as we don’t want to say goodbye to Summer produce we are beginning to dream of spicy mustard greens, crisp cabbages, tender kohlrabi, and sweet, sweet beets. That’s right - just because Summer is ending doesn’t mean our supply of fresh produce needs to! There is so much to love about Fall produce. And an added bonus? Working in the garden in crisp Autumn air can’t be beat. 

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How to Plan Your Garden: Start Early!

I hope you are reading this somewhere cozy enjoying that delicious sensation of being warm and safe when it is cold and wintery outside. The past few days have finally brought what feels like real winter temperatures to the MidAtlantic region, the tender annuals are brown and dry, and thoughts of the garden’s fresh bounty seem distant.

One thing I love about a four-season climate is the opportunity to rest, reflect, recharge and plan between growing seasons. While we know that the old adage “make a plan and make god laugh” certainly holds true with any sort of farming or gardening, it’s also true that a garden plan can serve as a vital road map when navigating the fluctuations and challenges of a growing season.

Here at Edible Eden we create garden plans using Excel (although there are numerous aps and programs these days that purport to simplify the process). I like the Excel solution because it allows me to think strategically about the varieties, successions and rotations I want to include in my plan. Of course if your plan calls for a March 2 seeding of radishes and March 2 is a blizzard with frozen solid soil…obviously you will need to shift your timeline, but having the basic road map of how many of any given crop to plant where, on what date really helps maximize your yield because you an estimate how many successions you can fit into any given space.

One of the things I love about both landscape design and garden planning is that you are applying a blend of creativity and knowledge across a spectrum of dimensions- certainly time, space, height…but also temperature; remember that the same beet that claims 50 days until harvest in June will take a lot longer to reach maturity in the fall as the hours of sunlight wane and growth slows down (even if the temperatures stay warm).

That brings me to the question of timing. It would be fantastic if there was a hard and fast rule about any given element of garden timing. The truth is- especially in light of climate change- getting the timing right in your garden is like learning to dance on a moving carpet.

This past year I had all my tomato plants in the ground by the end of May and felt very proud of myself. And when the weather conditions conspired to welcome in heavy populations of fungal diseases and blight, most of my tomatoes died and I was very sad.

Meanwhile my wife, who cannot tolerate to see a plant die, had been nagging me to plant the left over tomato seedlings that were dying slowly on our deck all summer long- long past the point in the season that it isn’t worth planting. She just couldn’t stand to see them die; so against all my recriminations and judgements, finally she went and planted tomatoes all over the yard in late July…

Can you guess what happened? The late planting avoided the worst of the fungal diseases, and the warm weather lasted longer than usual…and we were picking ripe tomatoes for Thanksgiving dinner!

All this to say, the winter is a great time to plan, dream and prepare for the growing season even though you never know how the season will play out!

You most likely will want to order any seeds you are purchasing in January. And If you’d like

some help with your garden plan contact Edible Eden for a customized road map for your 2017 growing season.

What is Reemay? Every Farmer's Favorite Fabric

You may have seen it your neighborhood -- the spider webs, cackling pumpkins and plastic skeletons have been replaced by gourds and hand-traced turkeys taped to the window. October has come and gone, and Thanksgiving is quick on its heels. For gardeners nationwide, the next thirty days are a last breath of life before the winter freeze. Many are wondering how to get the most out of their edibles before it’s too late.

Here at Edible Eden, the start of November harkens the beginning of Reemay season. What is Reemay? Reemay is a type of cloth-like fabric, generally made of polyester or polypropylene, which can be stretched over just about any garden plant. The fabric lets in about 75% of all sunlight while helping the plant retain heat and ward off bugs. As the weather gets colder, Reemay is crucial for extending the life of your garden.

Reemay should be set up as soon as the weather starts to turn, we recommend getting it up as soon as possible! Leave it on through the New Year, by which point even a covering of Reemay won’t be enough to ward off the winter.

Reemay is perfect for any late fall crops, like cabbage, kale, arugula, spinach  or carrots. By waiting as long as possible to harvest them, they grow sweeter. Reemay fabric can extend the life of your garden by several months and can result in plenty of extra pounds of produce. If you have even a couple of food plants in your garden, It makes sense to consider covering them for the next couple months.

To set up Reemay, we first stretch metal or PVC hoops over the garden to suspend the Reemay without crushing the plants. The fabric is anchored by garden staples pushed into the soil, or, if you’re on a budget, weighed down by rocks.

Interested in ensuring your fall harvest is as bountiful as possible? The garden gurus at Edible Eden can get your Reemay set up in an quick afternoon session. To learn more visit edibledenfoodscapes.com/contact.

Seasons of Abundance: Farm-to-Table Thanksgiving Ideas

Thanksgiving is such a confusing holiday! It’s simultaneously cozy and delicious and so hypocritical. There’s the historical injustice to consider and then there’s the factory farmed Butterball: monstrous animals so over-engineered they can’t even mate on their own. And yet, is there a better feast than the Thanksgiving shmorgasborg of autumnal abundance? Is there a meat more savory and delicious then a pasture-raised, heritage breed turkey roasted to perfection? Here in the MidAtlantic we can grow most of the components of a Thanksgiving feast right in our yards, and the holiday really gives us an opportunity to enjoy the bounty of our harvest! Here are some farm-to-table Thanksgiving ideas you can try this season. 

This year we planted sweet potatoes in raised beds and they went nuts! Some tubers were big as my arm. Sweet potatoes, like winter squash, can be harvested, cured and held in a root cellar until their starring role in the big meal. If your sweet potatoes are visually perfect you will most likely candy roast them in chunks, but if the bugs have been nibbling them, never fear, just trim the ugly spots, boil the rest and make a mashed sweet potato casserole with brown sugar and pears (or marshmallows but you didn’t hear that part from me).

Hearty fall greens like kale and collards are still growing despite the mild frosts we have had so far. Those greens start getting sweeter and sweeter as the frost brings out the sugars. They are fantastic sautéed in olive oil and served with fried shallots and pumpkin seeds on top for a healthy side dish even the vegans will love.

Some other great farm-to-table Thanksgiving ideas: apples and pears have been ripening over the past few weeks and bring a wonderful crunch to any dish. Consider a ultra-local Thanksgiving salad incorporating arugula, red meat radish, honey crisp apple and purple onion. Don’t forget a rice pilaf with wild rice, baby carrots, onions and thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms from the logs for another hearty side dish. I like to season mine with cinnamon, nutmeg and chicken broth.

Want to really confuse your cousin? Slice up a kolrabi, drizzle with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt for an appetizer none of your relatives will recognize.

Another exciting, garden-to-gourmet Thanksgiving dish features mini-pumpkins. I had always thought of those little 4 inch pumpkins as ornamental; turns out they’re delicious! Scoop out the seeds and bake them with sage leaf, butter and a sliver of garlic, or consider stuffing them with other creative fillings like minced lamb or even cheesecake.

My thanksgiving tradition is to go up to one of my farm mentor’s farms and help slaughter turkeys for a day in return for the bird of my choice. Homer raises his birds on pasture and they peck on the freshest grass and bugs until their big day. Possibly an odd choice for a lapsed passionate vegetarian, but that way I get to avoid the quandary of how ethical/economical I want to be regarding the turkey I purchase.

While today supermarkets give away free turkeys as a marketing gimmick, our ancestors’ harvests were dictated by the weather, luck and hard work. These farm-to-table Thanksgiving ideas take us back to the very roots of the holiday. Growing food and learning about what it takes to get an abundant harvest helps me feel connected to those that came before me; a universal and yet ultra-local birthright that connects us to the seasons, the earth and to ourselves.

 

Potatoes from the Earth with Love

I love growing potatoes! Maybe more then any other crop- digging up glowing gems from out of the soil that translate into real, belly filling food feels like magic. This year we planted three different kinds of potatoes and the Red Norlands rewarded us with this message from below...

Potatoes can be harvested starting in early July- and many farmers will start digging them early for market considerations. The best for home growers however is to wait until the plant starts to die in mid-late summer and then dig up its nest of starchy treasures. If you dig them before the plant starts to die you might be missing some additional tuber set.

Different varieties of potatoes have shorter and longer growing seasons so best to plant a few different varieties and have a long harvest window.

While theoretically any piece of potato with eyes planted in the early spring can generate a plant and create more tubers- supermarket potatoes are often treated with a chemical that inhibits sprouting and not the best idea for growing your own. Seed potatoes are available from most seed suppliers. I splurge on Maine Potato Lady as they have great organic varieties and you can get smaller and larger amounts of different kinds. Not cheap however!

In any case- the heart shaped potato played a starring role in this morning's garden produce hash served with fried eggs and feta.

Hot and Wet

When was the last time you watered your garden...? Oh, you say, not since May? That may be because it has been raining pretty consistently all summer long. While I have certainly enjoyed the might and glory of our Mid Atlantic thunder storms, and it's nice to never worry about watering... the ramifications for gardening are not so great.

You might have noticed most tomato plants wearing some forlorn yellow to brown leaves around their base- those are signs of Early Blight or Septoria, fungal diseases that get worse when the plants never get to fully dry out.

I've also seen different kinds of fungal diseases on everything from bush cherries and Monarda to Columbines and Lilac bushes. Earlier this season a fungal pepper disease came through that wreaked havoc with farmers. I heard of one well-known local organic farmer who lost their entire crop of specialty hot peppers they had been growing for a local restaurant. And hot peppers are really hard to kill! They never seem to suffer the way sweet peppers do...

I've also noticed mosaic virus and downy mildew on cucumber and squash plants- these fungal diseases usually take down your squash and cukes...but not until the end of the season. With so much rain they seem to be moving faster and earlier then usual.

All this to say, every season is different, sometimes it's dry and if your irrigation system is weak or faulty you start loosing plants. Some seasons it rains every day and while we never need to worry about watering...everything dies from a fungal disease.

Here are some things to consider:

-First of all, if you have an automatic irrigation system- make sure it is not adding insult to injury by watering when all your plants want is a chance to dry out.

-It's a good idea to remove the small branches and leaves around the bases of your tomato plants to create more airflow.

-Mulching with straw could help keep fungal spores from bouncing up from the soil to the lower leaves of plants.

-If you are only seeing the beginning of fungal disease on your plants you might consider spraying some Actinovate or another organic fungicide to try to beat back the progress of the disease.

Regardless, let's enjoy the moisture and warmth while it is here and hope for a crisp fall that is just a little bit dryer...

-- Josh Rosenstein 443.547.9268 www.EdibleEdenFoodscape http://www.EdibleEdenFoodscapes.coms.com http://www.EdibleEdenFoodscapes.com