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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

Are You Ready To Plant?

You’ve waited all winter, and spring is so close! It’s just about time to start sowing early spring crops.

You can sow cool season crops directly in the ground as soon as the soil temperature is at or above 40ºF. If the soil is wet and muddy, you’ll want to wait a few days until things dry out. Working wet soil can ruin its structure. Some people use polythene tunnels to warm the soil and give them an even bigger head start.

While you sow, don’t forget to feed your soil. Use Espoma Organic’s Garden-Tone, it is perfectly formulated for your vegetable garden.

Here are our top vegetables for early spring:

Spinach

Spinach sprouts fairly quickly and is remarkably frost resistant, especially when grown under cover. Plants like the morning sun and are happy to have some afternoon shade. Fresh baby spinach is tasty and loaded with vitamins and minerals. Try a springtime salad with spinach and strawberries or put them in your favorite breakfast smoothie.

Swiss Chard

This beet relative is another excellent early spring crop that is easy to grow from seed. Once the leaves are 6 inches tall, you can begin to harvest the outer leaves. Let inner leaves stand for a later harvest. Chard contains 3 times the recommended daily intake of vitamin K and 44 percent of the recommended amount of vitamin A. Eat it raw or cooked.

Lettuce

There are hundreds of different kinds of lettuce; they come in all colors, shapes and sizes. Harvesting baby greens is quick and easy. Look for varieties  you can cut back that will regrow. Many can be harvested in just 30 days. They won’t flourish during cold snaps, but they won’t die unless temperatures dip below 28ºF.

Radishes

Radishes are one of the fastest vegetables you can grow. They’re fun to grow with little ones because they come up before you know it. You can plant radishes alongside lettuce or other spring greens. As you harvest the radishes, the greens have more room to grow. Use them as an addition to salads and tacos or roast them for a delicious treat.

Kale

We all know kale is a super food — cooked kale delivers more iron than beef. Lucky for us it grows easily from seed. Harvest the outer leaves for baby kale and let the rest of the foliage grow to full size. It can produce a great deal of food with little effort. Sow kale early and protect from hard frosts.

Peas

Fresh grown peas are so sweet and delicious, even your kids will love them. And, the seeds are big enough for little hands to plant them. Plant them in the ground around St. Patrick’s Day or 4 to 6 weeks before that last frost free date. Some varieties will need a low trellis. Check the seed packet to see how tall they’ll grow. Grow sugar snaps or snow peas if you don’t want to do all the shelling regular peas require.

 Learn more about starting a kid friendly vegetable garden.

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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!

 

Guide to Starting Root Vegetable Seeds

Who’s ready to start digging in the garden? Us too.

Root vegetable crops can often be planted as soon as the soil has warmed. They’re an easy addition to start your vegetable garden. Start your seedlings now and you‘ll be able to brag about your homegrown root vegetables at the first summer BBQ of the year.

In order to be successful, plant your seeds after springs last frost date according to your region. Stop by your local garden center to pick up your seeds and supplies, soon!

Here’s how to start root vegetable seeds:

  1. Pick Your Soil

Soil for root vegetables is important as they will grow around anything intrusive buried. That will lead to deformed vegetables. They grow best in a deep, loose soil that retains moisture yet is well-drained, such as Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil.  Choosing the right soil from the beginning will set up your crop for success. Prepare bed, loosen compacted soil and mix in Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

Plant seeds after spring’s last frost date according to your region.

  1. Start Seeds

Sow your seeds directly into your soil. Follow instructions on the seed packets to see how deep and far apart to plant. Cover with soil, press down and lightly water.

  1. Water Regularly

Seeds need to stay moist while they germinate. Root crops need about 1 inch of water a week. Light waterings that only wet the surface will cause shallow root development and reduce the quality of crops.

  1. Feed Me

When the vegetables start to grow bigger, fuller leaves, give them a hand with Espoma’s Garden-Tone to help provide the nutrients needed for delicious vegetables.

  1. Thin plants

Some root plants like beets or radishes will benefit from thinning. Cut off the tops of weaker seedlings at the soil line when seedlings have 1-2 sets of true leaves.You can use many leaves as a tasty additions to salads. If you pull seedlings out of the ground, it is not recommended to transplant long rooted vegetables, like carrots and turnips, since the disturbance will cause roots to fork.

 

Want more veggies? Try this DIY vegetable pallet planter. 

 

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 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.

Five Vegetables to Plant in the Shade

Summer gardens filled with fresh fruits and lots of veggies are worth the work. And while gardeners with shady areas may be envious, they can still have plenty of success on their own vegetables.

After, the secret to good crops is really in the soil.

A shady space that gets as little as two hours of direct sunlight a day is still a prime location for a veggie garden filled with root or leafy vegetables. Plus, you’ll have a longer growing period for cool-season crops.

Read on for five vegetables that don’t need to full sun.

 

5 Vegetables that Grow in Shade:

  1. Beets

Easy to grow in almost any space, beets are a shade gardener’s best friend. Beets can be used for both their roots and their greens. Sow seeds directly in the ground in early spring for the best flavor.

  1. Bok Choy

This cold-weather vegetable can withstand cooler temps and shade. Use in soups, salads and stir-fries. Sow seeds directly in ground in both the fall and spring for two harvests.

  1. Kale

Cold-hardy and resilient, kale will grow for months until the weather gets too hot. This plant can be added to stir-fry, salads, omelets and smoothies for a healthy addition. Plant kale about two months before your first frost.

  1. Turnips

Eat turnips raw or cook and serve in soups, stir-fries or mashes. These plants thrive in cool temperatures and shade. Scatter turnip seeds in your garden two to four weeks before the last frost in spring or from late August to October.

  1. Garlic

Requiring almost no space, garlic is simple to grow. Break off cloves from a whole bulb and plant in the ground. To harvest big and flavorful bulbs next summer, plant garlic in the fall. Allow garlic to cure after harvesting in an airy, shady spot for two weeks.

Want to get kids involved in vegetable gardening? Learn more about kid-friendly gardening.

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.

Top Peppers for Sowing

Now that spring is here, we’re ready to get our hands in some dirt. And what better way to do that than by starting some seeds. All you need is light, heat and an organic seed starting mix.

Before you begin, check the last spring frost date in your area,  then count back 4-6 weeks. That’s when you’ll want to start seeds.

First up on our list for planting, is peppers. There’s nothing better than adding a spicy pepper to a garden fresh salsa. Plus, once you’re ready to grow outside, peppers can even be grown in containers.

5 Spicy Peppers for Sowing

1. Cayenne Pepper

This extremely red pepper is long and skinny. It is very spicy, which is why it’s best in a dried, powdered form. Cayenne peppers are known to boost metabolism, aid with digestion, relieve pain caused by migraines, prevent blood clots and relieve joint/nerve pain.

2. Habanero Chili

This pepper is one of the hottest in the world, next to the ghost pepper. It can be found in many different colors ranging from red, light yellow, brown, and orange. The heat of this pepper can be unpredictable, but regardless is always hot.

3. Serrano Pepper

This small pepper has think walls and is commonly used in hot-salsa. It starts out green, but as it ages it turns red then yellow. The best time to pick Serrano peppers is while they’re still green or in the beginning stages of changing colors.

4. Thai Chili Pepper

Also known as the Bird’s eye chile, Thai chilies are relatively tiny, but spicy. It could be either green or red. These plants are commonly grown year-round and can be brought indoors in winter.

5. Tabasco Pepper

This pepper got its name from the Mexican State, Tabasco, where it originated. It starts out as a yellow-green color, turning completely yellow, then orange, and then bright red at its ripest point. This plant can take up a lot of space in gardens being that it has the potential to grow nearly 60 inches high.

Ready to start seeds? Learn how here.