Tag Archive for You Can Grow That!

Leeks – You Can Grow That!

Being no stranger to growing plants in the Allium family – onions, scallions, garlic, chives, and many ornamentals – leeks had always scared me off. It certainly was not their flavor, which I love. It was the supposed extra care – hilling soil around the growing stalks – that caused me to leave leeks off my garden list of edibles. Boy was I wrong! Leeks are a great You Can Grow That! edible plant.

You Can Grow That! is a monthly blogging meme started by C.L. Fornari – she blogs at Coffee for Roses – to encourage anyone, novice or seasoned gardener, to stick their hands in the soil to grow something. Having grown plants for nearly 40 years, I’m still amazed by the power in each tiny seed.

I start seeds indoors, under lights, every spring. Each year, to expand my knowledge, I try growing at least one new plant or variety. Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) were my 2014 choice; the King Richard variety offered by Botanical Interests. I started two small flats in early March and grew them under lights until night temperatures in my zone 6 Connecticut garden remained above the hard freeze level. That’s when the leeks went into the mini-greenhouse in a protected, full-sun location. They moved to their summer home, a raised-bed, sometime in late May.

I planted the thin seedlings into a six-inch deep trench dug into the soil of the raised bed, then gently hilled soil up around the small transplants, leaving some of the green ends above soil level. After watching, watering, and waiting, the seedlings had grown enough to hill even more soil around the growing stalks. This is done to obtain the long white-flesh area – the edible part – at the base of each stalk. As the leeks grew, occasionally mounding more soil around each stalk took little time and effort. Once the soil was mounded to a total of 8 to 9 inches (remember, they were planted in 6-inch deep trenches), I added 2 inches of shredded straw to help keep soil moisture even and prevent weed growth.

For the rest of the growing season I pretty much ignored the leeks. By the time I harvested a couple in early autumn, they had grown quite large. Still, I left most in the ground for later harvest.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in sough-central Connecticut.

Leeks, harvested Thanksgiving week in south-central Connecticut.

Here’s how they looked when harvested right before Thanksgiving. The center leek is actually a bit more mature than recommended. The aim is to harvest before the ends begin to bulb.

There’s about a half-dozen more still in the raised bed, which is now covered as a mini hoop house for extra cold-weather protection. I expect to be harvesting leeks well into the winter.

These beauties were so easy to grow, and took up so little raised-bed real estate, that their now on my yearly edible plant list. And … they are delicious, imparting a mild oniony flavor to foods.

Northern gardeners can start leek seeds inside 8 to 10 weeks before the average last frost. After risk of a killing freeze passes, transplant leeks, 4-6 inches apart, into a trench at least 6 inches deep. Water regularly and mound soil up around growing plants as noted above. Gardeners in milder climates can sow leeks outdoors in spring for fall harvest or in late summer for harvesting the following spring.

For more growing suggestions, head to the You Can Grow That! website and read about other great edible and ornamental plants to grow. Then sit back and dream of all you could do in next year’s garden.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry

A Gardening Library – You Can Grow That!

Knowledge is power and, when it comes to gardening one of the best ways to increase one’s gardening knowledge is by cozying up to a good gardening book and absorbing its information from cover to cover.  A gardening library, You Can Grow That!

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You Can Grow That! is a blog meme started by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening. On the 4th of each month garden bloggers champion the virtues of gardening.  All of this month’s, as well as previous posts from gardeners in multiple zones, can be found at the You Can Grow That! website.

Outside of the shear pleasure of curling up with a good book on a cold, snowy winter’s day, using your gardening off-season or a period of unfriendly gardening weather to improve your gardening aptitude is a great way to avoid pitfalls.

Libraries and bookstores are filled with gardening books of all shapes, sizes and levels of expertise. Over time, I’ve collected many gardening books. Some of these have become go-to reference books … the books I reach for when I need a plant or design idea, more information about a gardening technique, or want to bone-up on a specific topic.

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Two of Michael Dirr’s books serve as wonderful tree and shrub references – Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs and the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – as do The American Woodland Garden by Rick Darke and Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Allan M. Armitage.

Want to know how to propagate just about any plant? Reach for Making More Plants, by Ken Druse. Perplexed by pruning? Peruse The American Horticulture Society’s Pruning and Training, by Christopher Bricknell and David Joyce.

I often flip through the pages of The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer when looking for design inspiration for a specific setting. Stephanie Cohen and Nancy Ondra offer tried and true ideas.

New Englanders can read Ellen Sousa’s The Green Garden for advice on establishing habitat gardens. In Bringing Nature Home Douglas Tallamy helps all understand why it’s important to value native plantings for native insect and wildlife populations and to find out how to incorporate energy efficiency into your landscape read Sue Reed’s Energy-Wise Landscape Design.

In Teaming with Microbes, Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis explain the down and dirty of the soil food web and how vital healthy soil is to gardening and farming.

Nikki Jabbour’s The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener reveals how she grows edibles, all year, in her Nova Scotia gardens … she’s an inspiration to all who seek to grow some, or more of their own food.

What’s Wrong With My Plant (And How Do I Fix It?) is a step-by-step guide for what ails plants. In it David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth offer organic solutions for treating plant problems and honest advice on when it’s time to replace diseased greenery.

When Aunt Edna or a social media friend suggest a tried-and-true garden remedy, or you question the science behind the latest, greatest gardening tip, it’s likely that Jeff Gillman has an explanation in The Truth About Gardening Remedies. I likewise recommend reading Gillman’s The Truth About Organic Gardening. Though, as an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP) I don’t encourage or suggest non-organic gardening practices, I do encourage gardeners to ingest balanced information regarding organic and non-organic gardening techniques. Balanced, well-researched information is Gillman’s forte.

This short stack of books does not create a comprehensive gardening reference library but this list forms a good foundation. Gardening aptitude – You Can Grow That! Learning does not need to take a temporary vacation when hands-on gardening is impractical. We can all, seasoned and new gardeners alike, learn about gardening any time, in any climate, just by having a good reference book on hand.

After four decades of collecting and reading gardening books, my bookcase still has room for more … perhaps you have a suggestion or two that you find indispensible?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Joene Hendry

Horseradish–You Can Grow That!

Horseradish is an easy to grow perennial root crop in my zone 6 gardens of south-central Connecticut – a plant-it-and-forget-it crop until autumn, when horseradish harvest time rolls around. It’s a You Can Grow That! plant … so easy to grow that I’m often surprized more gardeners don’t dedicate a sunny bed to it.

ycgt_blog_post_graphicYou Can Grow That! is a blog meme started by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening. On the 4th of each month garden bloggers champion the virtues of gardening.  All of this month’s, as well as previous posts, can be found at the You Can Grow That! website.

The key to growing horseradish is dedicating it to a sunny bed where the main roots can extend deeply into the soil and side roots can spread to eventually grow into new plants. I don’t advise planting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA horseradish in an ornamental bed. Horseradish leaves grow two to three feet tall and are not necessarily showy over the entire growing season. They emerge a lovely green and quickly grow to near mature height. But the leaves are often munched by caterpillars and tend to brown during the heat of summer.

In my region, deer browse the leaves in late summer leaving unsightly bare stalks standing until harvest time. Because of this I advise planting horseradish in an inconspicuous spot. Don’t expect it to be an attractive eye-catcher. In my dedicated-to-edibles gardens, horseradish has it’s own bed. Because horseradish plants have not completely filled the bed, I fill bare spots with onions since these bulb crops don’t compete with deeper horseradish roots and easily survive among horseradish leaves. Also, my horseradish bed is unfenced and available to browsing deer which leave the onions alone and don’t browse horseradish leaves until late summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But each autumn, even after deer browse the horseradish leaves to stalks, I harvest and process enough horseradish to meet my family’s needs.  Harvest time comes after a couple of good hard frosts, which help sweeten horseradish roots, but before the ground freezes. Harvest using a digging fork that allows deep penetration into the surrounding soil but does not cut the roots. Loosen the soil around the large tap root, then pull the root out of the ground. The root will likely snap off, but that’s okay. Pieces left in the soil will become future horseradish plants. Once all good size roots are dug, level off the bed and replace any mulch (I use straw or salt hay). Remove any remaining leaves from the dug roots, and as much loose soil as possible, then place roots in a cardboard box, in an area protected from weather, to cure for a few days. Before processing, you want to give the exterior of the roots time to dry, but don’t let them dry out too much so that interior moisture is lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On processing day, brush as much remaining soil off as possible and soak the roots in water. Then gather your tools. Gloved hands are a must when processing horseradish. An open window is also helpful since the pungent odor of fresh cut roots will make your eyes water. A potato brush is handy for removing clinging soil.  Rely on a  sturdy vegetable peeler and a small knife to peel the brown outer-coating from the roots. I like to do this in the sink to contain the peelings.

Cut the peeled white roots into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks, then place in a food processor bowl – with the cutting blade – with some water and white vinegar. Don’t completely cover the chunks, but give them an inch or so of liquid to sit in. As the chunks sit they gain pungency … you might want to keep the cover on the food processor bowl as much as possible. When all roots are cleaned and chunked, add white vinegar to about half way up the processor bowl and let the pieces sit about 15 minutes. If you have not opened a window yet, now is the time to do so. The pungent odor really gets strong once that food processor begins to work. Process the horseradish, adding white vinegar as needed, until no large chunks remain and the blend has a creamy texture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You’ll shed tears during processing, but these will be well worth it once you taste the sweet, fresh flavor of homegrown and home-processed horseradish.

Warning: you may never settle for store-bought again.

Since starting You Can Grow That! in October 2012, dozens upon dozens of gardening and growing ideas have been shared. Visit You Can Grow That! to dig into the brains of gardeners with a passion for encouraging others to green up their thumbs.

If you try growing horseradish as a result of this post, let me know. Roots should be available from quality independent garden centers and are sold by many seed companies.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry