Plant of the week: Strawberries

dsc01470.jpg

Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and phytochemicals, and they contain calcium, fibre, iron, potassium, and many other essential vitamins.  You can grow them in your garden, in containers on your deck or in your home, and you can even grow them upside down!  Strawberry plants are not grown from seeds, but from juvenile plants, called runners or sucker shoots, which start life as offshoots of their parent plant (similar to how spider plants propagate).

Ideal growing conditions

Strawberries require full sun and rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.8 (slightly acidic).  You can use pine needle mulch to increase the acidity of your soil, or, if your soil is naturally alkaline, you can grow your strawberries in containers filled with potting soil.  In the ground, space them about 18 inches apart, with the roots in the soil, but the central crown exposed.  If you bury the crown, the plant may rot.

Strawberries have shallow roots so they are difficult to weed, but mulching them with a thick layer of fine straw will help to keep the weeds down.  Strawberries send out many runners, which use up much of the plant’s resources that could otherwise be devoted to the production of fruit.  Allow three runners per plant to mature enough so that you can transplant them to a new location.  Pinch off the rest as soon as they start.

Plants typically thrive for a maximum of five years, which is why it is great that they produce their own suckers to replace them.

Types

  • June-bearing varieties produce all of their berries within a three week period.  You can choose from early, mid-, or late varieties, and they’ll produce in early, mid-, or late June (with variances depending on your specific climate).  They don’t produce fruit until their second season.
  • Ever-bearing strawberries produce large crops in the spring and fall, and smaller crops in-between.  They produce fruit the first season and onward, although not in as large of quantities as June-bearing varieties.
  • Day-neutral varieties produce decent crops of berries from spring until fall, but save their biggest crop from the fall. The plants are small but heavy producers.  These varieties don’t do well in the hot sun.  They produce fruit the first season and onward.
  • Alpine strawberries are, unlike the other varieties, grown from seed.  They are tasty, but small–about the size of wild strawberries.

Preserving strawberries

Pick strawberries in the morning, when the fruit is cool, and put them in the fridge. Don’t wash them until you are ready to use them.  You can freeze them individually, on a cookie sheet, and then later toss them into freezer bags, so they don’t freeze together in a big lump.  They’re also great in jam.  Many freezer jam recipes use less sugar than conventional bottled jams.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Borage
  • Caraway

Foes

  • Brassicas
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Birds – you may need to use floating row covers to protect your harvest.

Fun facts

  • Strawberries are the only fruits that wear their seeds on the outside, but what look like seeds are actually a type of dry fruit, called achenes.  These contain the actual seeds!
  • Strawberries are members of the rose family.

 

Advertisements

Plant of the week: Carrots

dsc03484.jpg

Ah, carrots.  They’re one of those vegetables that taste so much better fresh from the ground that one might wonder whether they and the specimens from the grocery store are of the same species.  They’re so much sweeter and more flavourful fresh from the dirt.

Not only are carrots delicious, but they are an excellent source of phytochemicals and vitamin A, as well as a less significant source of vitamin Bs, C, D, E, and K, as well as potassium.  It’s true what they say; they’re good for your vision, but they also have many more health benefits.

Ideal growing conditions

Carrots prefer loose and sandy soil that is free of rocks.  I tried to grow them one year in spot in my small backyard that had been well-travelled; the ground was too hard, so they died as stunted seedlings.  They prefer full sun but can deal with partial shade.  Direct sow them outside once the soil is workable.  You can also plant them in pots, but choose a variety that develops shorter roots.

Carrot seeds are tiny, so they are difficult to space apart when you sow them; don’t worry, it’s always necessary to thin them later.  Sow them in rows about 3-4 inches apart.  At first it will be difficult to distinguish them from weeds, but once the secondary leaves develop, you’ll recognize their curly tops.  Ensure that you keep them weeded, and thin them out as they grow so that there is sufficient room between the remaining plants for them to develop good size roots.  You can enjoy the baby carrots that you remove.

Preserving carrots

You can blanch and freeze carrots, pickle them, or store them boxes filled with sawdust or sand.  You can leave them in the garden after they’ve been hit by frost; frost improves their flavour.

Types

Carrots aren’t just orange–they come in a rainbow of colours including purple, yellow, white, and red.  Most varieties of carrots belong to one of the following categories:

  • Nantes carrots produce sweet, crisp, 6-7” cylindrical carrots with blunt tips. They are great for home gardens, as they can grow in sub-optimal soil.
  • Chantenay carrots are short and stout, with broad crowns.  They’re also a good choice for home gardeners, although they often get woody cores, so you will want to harvest them when they are about 6 inches long.
  • Mini carrots are the best varieties for growing carrots in containers or rocky soil.  They’re harvested when small.
  • Imperator carrots are the classic long, tapered type of carrot that you see at the grocery store. These carrots require a foot of properly prepared soil to grow, so they are probably not an ideal choice for backyard gardeners.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chives
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Most herbs
  • Onions
  • Peas

Foes

  • Dill
  • Tomatoes

Fun facts

  • Carrots are actually biennial; that is, if you leave them in the ground, the tops will flower and produce seeds in their second year.
  • Carotenemia may occur if one eats massive amounts of carrots.  The skin of the afflicted person may turn yellowish orange!
  • Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, reportedly did not like carrots.  😦

20160730_185337.jpg

Plant of the week: Tomatoes

DSC03593

Tomatoes originated in South and Central America, where they were likely small and yellow–ancient versions of today’s cherry tomatoes.  After they were brought to Europe, they were grown as ornamentals before finally being adopted as a food staple.

Tomatoes are fruits, by definition, though they have a much lower sugar content than other fruits.  They are excellent producers, as many varieties grow quite tall and can produce a few pounds of fruit per plant.  The German pink tomato variety, for example, often produces tomatoes that weigh 1-2lb each!

DSC01645.JPG
German pink tomato

 

Ideal growing conditions

Tomatoes like sun, and they prefer a rich soil.

Start them indoors six to eight weeks before the final frost.  When you transplant them outside, plant them deep into the soil, burying most or all of the stem.  The stem will develop roots that will help stabilize the plant.  Pinch off the last row of leaves, either at transplant time (if there are many leaves) or later, as more branches are added.  The plant will then concentrate its effort in producing fruit, and it will not grow too densely at the base where it is most liable to break.

Most tomatoes, aside from dwarf varieties, require some sort of support, whether it be stakes, cages, or other structures.

Preserving tomatoes

To freeze tomatoes, core them, then throw them in freezer bags.  To remove the skin later, simply run the frozen tomato under hot water, and it will peel off.

Tomatoes can be canned as is, as a sauce, or in many variety of salsas and chutneys.

If you are left with a multitude of green tomatoes at the end of the season, try green tomato mincemeat, salsa verde, or chow chow.  You can layer green tomatoes in newspaper and keep them in a cold, dark place, and many of them will ripen.

If you have a food dehydrator, you can make your own “sun-dried” tomatoes.

Types

There are two types of tomato plants:

  • Determinate (bush) tomatoes grow to a set height, usually around four feet.  As soon as the top bud starts to produce a fruit, the plant stops growing.  All fruits ripen over the same interval of a couple of weeks, then the plant dies.  Determinate plants are ideal if you want to cook batches of sauce or other dishes in which you must have a lot of tomatoes ready at one time.
  • Indeterminate (vine) tomatoes grow all summer, to heights from six feet and onward.  Blossoms and fruits are produced all summer long until the frost kills the plant.

The type of tomato will vary as well, from densely fleshed varieties suitable for sauce (such as roma tomatoes) to juicier types suitable for eating raw and fresh (such as beefsteak tomatoes).

Tomatoes also come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colours.

Friends

  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Chives
  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Onion
  • Parsley

Foes

  • Black acorn trees
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Potatoes

Fun facts

  • Cooked tomatoes are better for you than raw ones.  Cooking release more of their beneficial chemicals.
  • During the annual La Tomatina festival in Bunol, Spain, participants throw an estimated 150,000 tomatoes at each other over the course of one week.

Plant of the week: Corn

dsc01607.jpg

Corn is the most common staple food in the world.  It’s grown on every continent except for Antarctica, and used as an ingredient in everything from marshmallows to fireworks and shoe polish.  It is a significant part of our diet both directly (thanks to high fructose corn syrup), and indirectly–through the livestock we consume.

Corn is high in carbohydrates and fibre.  It also contains some protein, and B and C vitamins.  When it’s mixed with lime, such as in tortillas, some amino acids and niacin are made available to our bodies for absorption.

Most of the corn on the market is genetically modified.  It’s hard to avoid GMO corn entirely, but if you grow a heritage variety, you can ensure that at least some of the corn you are eating has been proven safe for consumption.

Preparing corn

Some varieties of corn, such as the heritage variety Bloody Butcher, shown above and below, produce pale yellow cobs when the plant is young.  As the plant matures, the kernels darken and grow tougher.  This might sound unappealing, but it’s actually not.  You can eat the first few batches on the cob.  As they toughen, you can cook the cobs, cut the kernels off, and freeze them.  Frozen corn is perfect for chili and other dishes.  You can leave some cobs on the plant to dry, then grind the kernels into cornmeal or corn flour for breads, tortillas, and polenta, for example.  Some varieties of corn can be used as popcorn once their kernels have dried.

Ideal growing conditions

Corn likes well-drained, nitrogen-rich soil, and full sun.  It does not like cold soil, and frost may kill it.  Corn is a heavy feeder which takes a lot of nutrients from its neighbours.  Be careful what you plant next to it.

As it is pollinated by the wind, it is best to plant it in blocks of at least 4 rows, in which both the seeds and the rows are spaced a foot apart.  Do not plant different varieties next to each other, unless they mature at different times, or they will cross-pollinate.

Most commercially bought corn is treated with a surface coating that prevents fungus and disease.  Your local heritage seed supplier should have some untreated varieties for you to try.

Types

Often, we think of corn in terms of sweet corn, baby corn, popcorn, and cattle corn, but the six main types of corn are catalogued quite differently.

Friends

  • Beans, peas, and other legumes
  • Melons
  • Sunflowers
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Cucumber
  • Parsley

Foes

  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Cabbage

Fun Facts

  • The average ear of corn has 800 kernels.
  • Popcorn kernels contain a small amount of water inside their thick-walled casings. When they’re heated, steam builds up until the kernel explodes.

Plant of the week: Potatoes

Posted by GIMBY on Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Plant of the week: Beans

Posted by GIMBY on Thursday, February 23, 2017

Plant of the week: Onions

Posted by GIMBY on Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑