Posts

Grow Your Own Popcorn

Everyone loves corn on the cob. It’s a staple of summer picnics and barbeques. Everyone loves popcorn too, but most people don’t realize you can grow your own. This is a fun and easy way to get kids involved in gardening. Seeds are relatively large and easy for kids to handle. It’s fast growing and making your own popcorn is a real treat.

You’ll Need Fertile Seed

No, you can’t open a bag of popcorn from the grocery store and plant it. Most store bought popcorn isn’t fertile because of the heating and sterilization processes it undergoes.  You’ll need to buy fertile popcorn from your local garden center and there are plenty to choose from on the internet. There are a few heirloom varieties that make great popcorn and are beautiful too, you’ll want to use them for fall decorating.

Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/ RareSeeds.com

Strawberry Popcorn?

One heritage variety named ‘Strawberry’ has short cobs, just 2-4 inches long with ruby red kernels. ‘Dakota Black’ has 6-8 inch long cobs with kernels so deep purple they look almost black. Think Halloween decorations! Perhaps the most beautiful is called ‘Glass Gem’. The kernels are yellow, orange, pink, purple, green and orange with a glossy, glass-like transparency. They are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat!

Choose a Bright, Sunny Spot

Plant corn in full sun, with well-draining soil. Mix in some of Espoma’s All-Purpose Garden Soil and Bio-tone Starter Plus to refresh  your soil. While these varieties of corn are somewhat smaller than eating corn, they still need plenty of room. Space the seeds, 2 per hole, eight to ten inches apart with 18-24 inches between rows.

They’re Thirsty

Popcorn is a thirsty plant. They will drink about 2 inches of water a week if it doesn’t rain.

Add a layer of mulch after planting to help hold moisture in the soil. Using soaker hoses is a very efficient way to water, very little evaporates and the water is taken up slowly and deeply. You should begin to taper off watering when you near the harvest time, about 100 days.

Photo Courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/ RareSeeds.com

They’re Hungry!

Feeding your popcorn is just as important as watering it. All corn needs nitrogen. Using a product like Espoma’s Plant-Tone is a great choice. It’s an organic, long lasting, slow release fertilizer. It’s a good idea to feed popcorn when it’s about knee high, when the silk forms or if the leaves start turning yellow. Or, simply feed plants once a month.

Protect the Kernels

If you garden with kids, making a scarecrow is an absolute must! And, it may actually help to keep the birds away. If birds are overly interested in your sprouting corn, you could try using a chicken wire tunnel over each row.

Let the Corn Dry on the Stalks

In a dry autumn, leave the corn on the stalks until they are dry. The husks should be papery and dry and the kernels should feel hard. If it’s a wet fall, harvest the corncobs and bring them indoors to finish drying. Simply pull back the husks and spread them out on newspaper, out of direct sunlight. Popcorn is generally harvested in October, 85-120 days after planting depending on weather and when it was planted.

Photo Courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/ RareSeeds.com

Pop Quiz

If you’re not sure if your popcorn is dry enough, do a pop test. Put a few kernels of corn into a hot pan with a little bit of oil. If it pops, it’s ready. If it sticks to the pan, it’s not ready and needs to be dried longer. You can either pop your corn the old fashion way, in a pan with oil or put one cob in a paper bag and pop it in the microwave. Keep a close eye on your microwave cooking time, until you know how long it takes for your popcorn to cook. Unpopped popcorn can be stored in an air tight container all winter.

For more gardening fun, check out this video on how to plant a vegetable garden.

Espoma Products for Popcorn

5 Deliciously Unique Fall Vegetables

Most avid gardeners have planted the veggie essentials in abundance, but what about the forgotten veggies and those varieties that look a little different from the usual choices?

There is a surprisingly long list of what are considered “unusual” veggies, but below are five of the strangest, most delicious ones that you’ll want in your garden.

Romanesco Broccoli

If you’re going for the “wow” factor in your veggie garden, then Romanesco broccoli is the plant for you. Its intense, bright green fractals of broccoli are stunning. It is similar to cauliflower in terms of care. For best results, be sure to keep the soil moist and plant in a spot with full sun. Keep romanesco broccoli fed with Espoma’s Garden-tone. You can eat this stunning broccoli in a number of ways: raw in a salad, steamed, or grilled. Hardy in Zones 3-10.

Kaleidoscope Carrots

Jewel-toned colors like yellow, purple and red make for a fun pop of color for this classic favorite veggie. Choose rainbow carrots to add a variety of color to salads, sides and stir-fries. Plant seeds in late summer for a harvest that can be enjoyed on autumn days and even for Thanksgiving dinner. Straight roots need light, loose soil so sow carrot seeds in deep, well-worked soil in full sun. Grow in any region.

Black Radishes

Radishes are quick and easy to grow. Heirloom varieties of black radishes take about two to three times long to grow than regular radishes and tend to be spicier. Their crisp black skin and snow white flesh will make them an intriguing addition to any veggie platter. If radishes are too pungent, remove the skin before eating. Black radishes do need plenty of sun, so choose a spot where they can get 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. Feed with Espoma’s liquid Grow! for bigger plants. Grow in any region.

Tree Onions (Egyptian Onions)

These onions set their bulbs at the top of the plants. They taste similar to shallots, but with a more intense flavor. Stalks fall over when they get too heavy, allowing the bulbs to “walk” and plant themselves in a new space. One walking onion can travel as far as 24 inches and create six new onions. Plant bulbs in late summer (before the first frost) to harvest next year. Hardy in Zones 3-10.

Blue Potatoes

The vivid bluish-purple hues of Adirondack potatoes make them a stunner for any dish — especially mashed potatoes. They taste like regular potatoes and get their unique coloring from anthocyanin. There are many varieties including some with a marbled blue and white interior. Plant potatoes in fall to get a head start on a spring harvest. Grow in any region.

Espoma products for Unusual Veggies:

Grow! Plant Food

If you’re looking for the basics, learn how to plant veggies in containers!

 

Companion Planting for Beginners

Grouping certain plants together will actually help your garden in more ways than you think. Companion planting is planting things together that benefit each other.

Find out how to your plants can help each other in this tutorial with Laura from Garden Answer. She’ll walk you through the basics of what it is, how to get started and how she companion plants in her own garden.

Example One: Growth and Habit Can Benefit Other Plants

Imagine a cucumber. Think about how it vines out all over the ground. If you were to trellis the cucumber to grow somewhat vertically, it will cast shade on the ground and you can plant something underneath — think greens, spinach, or anything that enjoys a bit of shade throughout the day.

If you don’t want to trellis your cukes, you can use this example with anything that grows taller and will cast some shade — such as sunflowers or corn. Hardier, tall plants can also be used like a trellis for peas or beanstalks to wrap themselves around them.

Example Two: Plant to Suppress Weeds

If you decide not to trellis vine crops, but instead allow them to grow over the ground, these can be used to block the sunlight and water from getting into the ground. This will make new growth difficult for weeds.

Example Three: Plant to Attract or Repel Insects

You can plant herbs or flowers to attract or repel insects. It is the same concept of planting herbs on the patio to repel mosquitos. Planting them near other producing plants will help fend off unwanted insects. For example, plant basil next to tomato plants to ward off the tomato hornworm — an insect that can be devastating to tomato plants. In this example, basil will also help the tomato grow and taste better – so it is worth a try!

On the other hand, zinnias will attract ladybugs – which is a good thing! Bring ladybugs into your garden to help keep control of other insects.

Nasturtiums act as a host plant for aphids. If you need to get aphids away from other plants that are producing, plant a nasturtium nearby as a distraction.

Other ideas:

  • Plant Thyme with cabbage to repel cabbage worms
  • Add marigolds to repel pests with strong fragrance

Example Four: Plant with Root Depth in Mind

Be sure to consider what you are planting near each other. If you only plant shallow rooted vegetables together they will be competing for space and nutrients. Before planting, be sure to know how deep the roots will go and mix and match the ones you place together. That way each plant can get the right amount of nutrients.

Planting lettuce, tomatoes and carrots together would work well. Lettuce has shallow roots, tomatoes have medium roots and carrots are a deep root vegetable, so they will not have to compete for the same space. Let’s say you want to add in potatoes – think about where the carrots are and don’t plant them next to each other. They will be much happier next to the lettuce.

When you are considering planting for nutrients, be sure there are nutrients in the soil for your plants to take up. Before planting, add Espoma’s Organic Bio-tone Starter Plus to ensure the plants are getting all the nutrients they need to grow big and tasty. Later in the season, it is best to follow up with Garden-tone to keep plants in close quarters thriving.

Espoma Products For Companion Planting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Companion Planting for Beginners with Garden Tour

Grouping certain plants together will actually help your garden in more ways than you think. Companion planting is planting things together that benefit each other.

Find out how your plants can help each other in this tutorial with Laura from Garden Answer. She’ll walk you through the basics of what it is, how to get started and how she companion plants in her own garden.

Example One: Growth and Habit Can Benefit Other Plants

Imagine a cucumber. Think about how it vines out all over the ground. If you were to trellis the cucumber to grow somewhat vertically, it will cast shade on the ground and you can plant something underneath — think greens, spinach, or anything that enjoys a bit of shade throughout the day.

If you don’t want to trellis your cukes, you can use this example with anything that grows taller and will cast some shade — such as sunflowers or corn. Hardier, tall plants can also be used like a trellis for peas or beanstalks to wrap themselves around them.

Example Two: Plant to Suppress Weeds

If you decide not to trellis vine crops, but instead allow them to grow over the ground, these can be used to block the sunlight and water from getting into the ground. This will make new growth difficult for weeds.

Example Three: Plant to Attract or Repel Insects

You can plant herbs or flowers to attract or repel insects. It is the same concept of planting herbs on the patio to repel mosquitos. Planting them near other producing plants will help fend off unwanted insects. For example, plant basil next to tomato plants to ward off the tomato hornworm — an insect that can be devastating to tomato plants. In this example, basil will also help the tomato grow and taste better – so it is worth a try!

On the other hand, zinnias will attract ladybugs – which is a good thing! Bring ladybugs into your garden to help keep control of other insects.

Nasturtiums act as a host plant for aphids. If you need to get aphids away from other plants that are producing, plant a nasturtium nearby as a distraction.

Other ideas:

  • Plant Thyme with cabbage to repel cabbage worms
  • Add marigolds to repel pests with strong fragrance

Example Four: Plant with Root Depth in Mind

Be sure to consider what you are planting near each other. If you only plant shallow rooted vegetables together they will be competing for space and nutrients. Before planting, be sure to know how deep the roots will go and mix and match the ones you place together. That way each plant can get the right amount of nutrients.

Planting lettuce, tomatoes and carrots together would work well. Lettuce has shallow roots, tomatoes have medium roots and carrots are a deep root vegetable, so they will not have to compete for the same space. Let’s say you want to add in potatoes – think about where the carrots are and don’t plant them next to each other. They will be much happier next to the lettuce.

When you are considering planting for nutrients, be sure there are nutrients in the soil for your plants to take up. Before planting, add Espoma’s Organic Bio-tone Starter Plus to ensure the plants are getting all the nutrients they need to grow big and tasty. Later in the season, it is best to follow up with Garden-tone to keep plants in close quarters thriving.

Continue to watch for a tour of Laura’s vegetable garden and to see where Laura plants her companions.

Espoma Products For Companion Planting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Stop Believing – Your Garden Reinvented!

So you just finished harvesting all of your crops, you have tomatoes in every drawer in your kitchen and your garden is cut back. What now?

With enough time left before the first frost, you can still get another crop in the ground.

Whether you are a planner or a fly by the seat of your pants kind of gardener, succession planting is something to try.

What is Succession Planting?

Succession planting is a way of planting that maximizes your harvest. You plant one vegetable right as another finishes. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Harvest Crop – Using the same plot for another set of vegetables after harvest. When a crop is finished, plant another, with a shorter maturity date, in its place. Leafy greens, followed by potatoes, are a great example of harvesting and replanting.
  2. Companion Crop – Plant two or more crops with varying maturity dates around each other. After the first crop is harvested, your garden will continue flourishing. Radishes next to cucumbers are great companions. Radishes will be harvested before the cucumbers start to produce too much shade.
  3. Staggered Crop – Plant the same crop every few weeks in order to not be bombarded by the entire crop at once. Tomatoes and peas are crops you’d want in small batches through the whole season.
  4. Same Crop – Plant the same crop with different maturity dates. Seed packets will display the days to maturity on the packets. Broccoli is an example crop with various maturity dates.

Now you know what succession planting is, here are a few steps to send you in the right direction.

5 Tips for Succession Planting

  1. Plan Accordingly – Growing based on maturity can be a little tricky if you aren’t planning for your region. Make sure to check the seed packet or plant tag to find out how long the plant will take to mature and what temperature it will grow best in. Make sure you have enough seeds to keep you going through the season.
  2. Plant Transplants – Speed up the growing process by starting seeds This will allow you to harvest and quickly plant to keep your garden at optimum level all the way up to those winter months. Or, purchase plants as seedlings from your local garden center.
  3. Feed Regularly – Add Espoma’s Garden Tone to the soil between plantings to keep the soil rich and crops thriving.
  4. Don’t Hesitate – As you see plants starting to reduce or cease harvest, don’t hesitate to pull them to make room for a new crop.
  5. Rotate Crops – Try not to plant the same vegetable in the same spot year after year. This causes the soil to lose essential nutrients and increases the likelihood for diseases to develop. Rotate crops every three years.

Succession planting can ensure your garden is in working production all season long. Learn what veggies it’s not too late to plant.

5 Ways to Give Your Summer Garden a Boost

There’s no better way to enjoy your garden than by encouraging it to grow bigger and better. Before your summer veggies and flowers peak, take your garden to the next-level by refueling it.

Knock-out these 5 essential tasks and your garden will thank you. You’ll extend your summer season and ensure that your lawn and garden are in tip-top shape.

 

5 Ways to Give Your Summer Garden a Boost

1. Hydrate. When it’s hot, dry and muggy, the best thing is a nice cold drink. Your plants need some H2O, too. The trick to keeping your garden hydrated during the hottest days is not to water more. It’s to water smarter. Water plants deeply in the morning so they have the entire day to soak it up.

Image courtesy of Garden Answer

2. Keep plants fed. Your summer veggies and flowers are hungry. Feed hanging baskets, container gardens and annuals with liquid Bloom! plant food every 2 to 4 weeks. Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders. Continue to feed every 2 weeks with organic fertilizers Tomato-tone or Garden-tone.

3. Prune and deadhead. Extend the life of perennials by deadheading flowers as soon as they are spent. This will encourage plants to keep blooming as long as weather permits. Your roses will thank you. Prune tomato suckers and shrubs now, for fuller plants later.

4. Mow lawns strategically. When mowing, keep the mower blades high (3” or higher) to encourage healthy roots. Cut grass in the evening to give it time to recover and keep yourself cool.

5. Plant more! There are many quickly maturing plants that will thrive in summer gardens and be ready for harvest in the fall. Try planting radishes, cucumbers, beans and more.

Sit back and relax! Take a good look at your hard work and dream about the rewards and bountiful harvests you’ll enjoy in the months to come.

If you’re looking to get a better tomato harvest this summer, be sure to check out our complete tomato guide!

5 Summer Edibles it’s not Too Late to Plant

It’s never too late to start an edible garden. Different fruits and vegetables thrive in all types of conditions, so you’re bound to find the perfect fit for your garden, regardless of the season.

In fact, some summer favorites can be planted now for a delicious late summer or early fall harvest. Make sure to use Espoma’s Organic Garden-tone when growing veggies this summer.

Consider these options for late June – early July planting.

Beets

These little red veggies thrive in conditions with warm days and cooler nights, making them perfect for areas with a mild summer climate. They can also adapt to grow in cool weather, making your harvest last through the fall and winter. Beets prefer full sun when possible, but still produce leafy greens in the shade.

Aside from being delicious, beets also have a ton of nutritional benefits. With loads of vitamins A and C, iron, potassium and calcium, beets can help protect you from heart cancer.

Cucumbers

Nothing says summer flavor like a delicious, crisp cucumber. Cucumbers serve as a perfect addition to any summer salad or cocktail, or they can stand on their own as a yummy snack. Cucumbers thrive in warm weather and that hot summer heat will give you delicious sprawling cucumbers in as little as 50 days.

Harvest cucumbers before they get too big to encourage continued growth.

Peas

Sweet, crisp and crunchy – what else could you want from a summer vegetable? Sugar snap peas need at least six hours of full sun every day and thrive in sunny spots. As sugar snap peas grow up, support them with a trellis or stake. They will be ready to harvest within 60-90 days of planting, which will give you a delicious late summer – early fall treat.

Zucchini

Zucchini is definitely a fan favorite when it comes to summer squash. This fast growing vegetable will be ready to harvest within 45-55 days after sowing seeds. Zucchini tastes best when it measures around 4-6 inches. If it grows much bigger, the flavor will become bitter.

Be sure to give your zucchini plants plenty of room to grow as they often produce lots of vegetables very quickly.

Melons

If you live a climate where the hot summer heat lasts well into the fall, try planting watermelons in your vegetable garden. Watermelons are extremely pest and disease resistant, making them perfect for an organic garden. Watermelons typically need 80-100 days of hot, humid weather to develop their delicious sweet taste, so only plant if you live in the right climate.

For those in climates a bit more mild, try planting honeydew or cantaloupe. These melons prefer warm weather but don’t require the same amount of heat as watermelons.

Grow These Veggies on Your Patio

As urban gardening continues to trend, container gardens are popping up everywhere! Container gardens are perfect small-space solutions. Not only do they provide added appeal to your space, they also give you delicious food right at your fingertips. If you have limited space, or simply just want to add another element to your existing crop, grow these container plants on your patio this summer.

Espoma soil acidifier, Holly-tone, growing blueberries, BrazelBerries Jelly Bean

Photo courtesy of Bushel and Berry.

  1. Blueberries – These sweet summer fruits grow great in containers. Because blueberries are so small, you can get a big harvest with very little space. Blueberries love acidic soil, so check the pH level of your soil and add Espoma’s Holly-tone if necessary. Check out more on growing blueberries here.
  2. Tomatoes – With tons of varieties, there is a tomato for everyone. Some of our favorites to grow in containers include smaller varieties like grape or cherry tomatoes. These are easy to pick right off the vine and are perfect for gardening with kids. Learn more about growing tomatoes in our ultimate tomato-growing guide.
  3. Peppers – Like tomatoes, peppers come in many different shapes and sizes. Whether you’re looking to add some spice to your garden with jalapenos, or prefer milder bell peppers, these colorful veggies are a vibrant summer sight. Peppers love lots of direct sun, so plant these containers in a bright area.
  4. Zucchini – One of our favorite summer veggies, zucchini are a bit larger than tomatoes and peppers and need more room. Grow in a container with at least a five gallon capacity with proper drainage. Use Espoma’s Garden-tone to get the most out of your zucchini plants. Like peppers, zucchini will thrive with 6-8 hours of sunlight, so plant in a sunny spot.
  5. Herbs – Because herbs are small, they are the perfect fit for any container garden. Kitchen staples such as rosemary, basil and mint are great additions to any dish, or even a refreshing summer drink. Grow herbs in Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix in containers inside or out.

If you have limited space, don’t let that discourage you! With the right containers and a little bit of planning, you can have a delicious summer harvest in no time.

Check out this video on container plants and tell us what plants you’ll be growing in containers this season in the comments.

6 Heirloom Plants We Love

Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes are not the only heirlooms out there. Heirlooms are plants that are grown from seeds that have been passed down through the generations for at least the past 50 years. They must also be open-pollinated, which means they’re pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention.

Your organic vegetable garden wouldn’t be complete without some heirlooms. So grab your shovel and get ready to plant.

Here are six heirlooms we love!

1. Armenian cucumber

This cucumber is also known as yard-long cucumbers or snake melon, because of the cantaloupe-like scent that’s released when sliced. It yields large amounts and turns yellow when ripe. They’re also great for slicing and pickling!

2. Black Diamond Watermelon

It has a blackish green rind that covers its bright red flesh. The seeds are black and can grow to be pretty big. This watermelon is drought resistant and prolific, which means that it produces a lot of “offspring.”

3. Clemson Spineless Green Okra

This plant yields large amounts of pods that should be harvested when they reach three inches long. It will keep growing until the weather cools down during the fall, so it’s possible for them to grow up to 6 feet or taller in warmer areas. It is also a traditional favorite for soups and stews.

4. Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage

This cabbage is dark green and has a smooth, sweet flavor. It usually harvests pretty early, but is slow to split and bolt. After it matures, it’s best to keep it in the garden for another two to three weeks. It is also really rich in vitamins and minerals.

5. Rutabaga

This plant is grown in the cooler seasons and is desired for its root, the Swedish turnip. It is essentially a natural cross between a cabbage and a turnip, but its yellowish root and smooth leaves differentiate it from an actual turnip.

6. Spaghetti Squash

The squash starts off as white and eventually changes colors to a pale yellow once it matures. It can yield up to four or 5 plants and they will last several weeks after harvesting. This plants it known for its double as a healthy substitute to pasta.

Once your vegetable garden gets growing, don’t forget to feed with an organic fertilizer such as Garden-tone.

Fall is for Planting: Cool-Season Veggies

There is nothing better than the taste of fresh picked produce, except maybe when its fall, and you expected your garden to be put to bed by now!

Even though leaves are starting to change, your organic veggie garden has plenty of time left to produce. Help your fall garden thrive with these four tips from Behnke’s Garden Center.

rucola-791380_1920

Fall is For Planting: Four Tips for Growing a Cool-Season Organic Veggie Garden

  1. Start planting. Now is the time to plant fall veggie seedlings. Fast growing, frost-tolerant plants such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, beets carrots, lettuce, spinach and herbs will keep growing even as the temperature drops.
  2. Fertilize. For a bigger harvest, feed veggies monthly with an organic fertilizer. Your soil has been hard at work all summer and is in need of nutrients. Keep your garden growing with a healthy feeding.

broccoli-494754_1920

  1. Harvest soon. Once your crops start ripening, go out and pick every day. Here’s when to harvest your organic veggies:
  • Lettuce and spinach: Cut outer leaves when young and tender.
  • Kale: Pick when the leaves are as big as your hand.
  • Carrots: Pick when the top of the carrot is 1” wide.
  • Broccoli: Cut broccoli when its head is 4-7” wide.
  • Cauliflower: Cut when its head is 2-3” wide.
  1. Don’t forget to Cover. If frost arrives sooner than expected have a plan to protect your crops from the cold. Water your bed and then cover with a sheet, blanket or tarp. Keep the cover from touching plants with stakes and use bricks to hold it in place. Remove cover when temperatures warm again.

What are you growing in your fall garden? Let us know in the comments!

Behnke Nurseries garden center in Beltsville, MD has provided plants, ceramic pots, and gardening supplies to gardeners since 1930.  Behnke’s offers a very wide selection of perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees and houseplants, and the experienced staff will advise you on the best options for your garden. The Holiday Shop provides a charming Christmas experience and carefully chosen accents for year ’round, while the selection of bonsai by Ducky Hong is unsurpassed.  Behnke’s welcomes gardeners of all levels of expertise: come and learn at their frequent free lectures.

Product

Garden-tone