Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Plant of the Week - Garlic 

originally posted on Knoxville Area Gardening Tips- June 30, 2016

If you have never grown garlic, it is one of the easiest crops to grow and you can grow a year's supply in a relatively small area. And you can even save your own "seed".

There are two main types of garlic and multitudes of varieties within each type.


Hardneck Garlic has a tough inner stalk in the center of a ring of usually, quite large cloves. This type of garlic is usually recommended for further north, but I have not had any trouble getting good harvests. Hardneck garlic also gives you a harvest of the developing flower heads, aka. garlic scapes, in the spring. You rarely see hardneck in stores because they only keep well for 3-4 months. This type is said to have some of the more interesting flavors.

Softneck- does have a soft stalk and is perfect for making garlic braids. There are more cloves per head, but they are smaller than those of hardneck varieties. This type keeps quite long. I current have two heads left from last year's harvest, and they are a little dried out, but definitely in usable condition, though I have little motivation to use them. This year's harvest of fresh, juicy garlic has just finished curing.

2014 Garlic & Shallot Harvest

It is best to order your garlic online, or purchase it from a local grower. If you purchase it locally be sure to ask what variety it is. So, if you catch the garlic growing bug, you will know what you already have.

2015 Garlic & Shallot Harvest
Now for a little information on growing garlic.

It does like soil that is fairly loose and has a moderate amount of fertility. Some compost added to the bed a month or so before planting is what I have seen most often recommended. You can use a spading for to loosen the soil, the big issue is, you don't want to break the leaf stalk off of the bulb when you are harvesting. You plant in October. Putting the cloves 6 inches apart and about 4 inches deep. Mulch with straw or something simular to prevent weeds. The garlic will start to grow green straplike leaves. Don't worry if there are freezes, even if the tops are frozen the growing garlic in the ground will be fine. When spring comes the leaf growth will accelerate dramatically. If you have hardneck, keep an eye out for scapes and harvest them after the have made a full circle. This will keep you plant from putting energy into making a flower. In June or early July you will see the leaves dying from the bottom up. When about half the leaves have turned brown, dig up a test head to make sure the head has divided into cloves. If they have, harvest your garlic. You then need to cure it so it will store well. Put it in a well ventilated, sheltered place out of direct sun for a week or so. After that select the best, unblemished heads to save for "seed" for next years crop and store it all in a relatively cool location. I store my seed garlic in a dry room in our basement and my cooking garlic, on my kitchen walls.
2016 Garlic & Shallot Harvest
I am able to grow over 100 heads in a 10'X 3.5' bed in which I also grow shallots as they have the same growing cycle and needs. This gives our family a year's supply of garlic, with "seed" for next year and a little to give away.

Here is a link to a website with lots of good information on growing garlic and different varieties of garlic.

Monday, January 2, 2017

My Seedstarting Journey - Repost form March 2008

Here is a writeup of my history with seedstarting from March of 2008.  When I have a moment I will do a step by step through the process I started using then and still use today.
Seed starting has been another area of learning through failure. Four years ago I tried to start seeds without a fluorescent light, put one seed in each 2" soil block. I had poor germination and leggy plants which meant a lot of wasted space. The transplants were decent but it took a lot of energy to set them out every warm day.

The next year I got a 2 tube four foot long shop light and a timer for it. I still did most everything else the same. Wasted space where seeds did not germinate and took a lot of time making the soil blocks and gently watering them. Had very good transplants. I did a lot of setting plants out on warm days to harden them off and let my peppers get too cold but had good plants and good crops that year.

Last year I got a second shop light, decided to use yogurt cups we had saved instead of soil blocks and had read about germinating seed in paper towel. These steps considerably reduced the time and space need and produced transplants that looked better than you could buy. I also had read about the one thing a week and heard that you should not set tomato plants and pepper plants out until night time temperatures are consistently 50 and 55 degrees respectively.

This year I have taken all the learning from previous years and worked on fitting seed starting into small bits of time here and there. I have also been thoughtful about how many transplants I want to raise. I will plant 10 pepper plants and 14 tomato plants, so I want to grow on about twice that number and will only pot up that many sprouted seeds.

I'm really looking forward to Spring and Summer this year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Favorite Seed Sources

 I originally posted this to Knoxville Area Gardening Tips on January 17, 2016.  It was modified and posted here on May 17, 2016
Here are some of my favorite seed sources, three catalogs(free on request from each company) and one on-line only seed company
Pinetree Garden Seed- They sell smaller quantities than most, at an equally smaller price. Great for someone just starting out and/or wanting to try a lot of different varieties.
Territorial Seed Company  - They have lots of great varieties and good reference information and charts in their catalog and online.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - This is one of the places to go, if you want open pollinated seeds and heirloom. Their catalog has beautiful pictures of diverse varieties. They do produce several different versions of their catalog, some that are sold on magazine racks, just to confuse everyone.
Renee's Garden Seeds  - This is a delightful website with lots of interesting varieties and multi-variety packages. Her gardening help section is also very good.
These are just a few of my personal favorites, there are many more wonderful  seed companies. Add your favorites to the comments.

Other Great Seed Sources:
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange
Sample Seed Shop 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Plant of the Week- Lambs Quarters-

Chenopodium alba and Chenopodium berlandieri

For many years, I knew Lambs Quarters as only a weed in my garden. Then I read that it's leaves made a great spinach-like green that could be used fresh in salads when raw and as a cooked green. When I tried it I was amazed. Why doesn't everyone in the South use this plant. I suspect the problem is, it has been around too long.

I learned recently that lambs quarters(aka , goosefoot, Aztec red spinach, fat hen, Huauzontle) was cultivated by Native Americans in North America before corn was introduced to this part of the hemisphere. In a very interesting presentation earlier this year, Dr Gary Crites, a Paleo Ethno Botanist from the McClung Museum explained that, over 4,000 years ago, plants in the goosefoot family were being cultivated and harvested for seed. The plant is closely related to quinoa though the seed is quite a bit smaller. They are not able to tell if the leaves were used though they probably were.

As with all plants that come up on their own, you need to positively identify Lambs Quarters before you eat it. The leaf shape is very distinctive, but the most obvious thing is the waxy, powder that is very heavy on the newest leaves and lighter, but still present on older leaves. Make sure you have someone who definitely knows this plant, show it to you.

I don't really like it raw, but use Lambs Quarters as a nearly direct substitute for spinach in cooking. It cooks down much less than spinach, so for most recipes I find it is best to use between 1/3 and1/2 as much as the spinach called for. It also freezes well after blanching.

As far as cultivating it, I generally just leave some plants in places where they will not be in the way. The plant starts small and can grow to five feet or more. I find that the biggest leaves are a little tough, but even fairly large leaves cook down well.

Here are a couple of links if you want to learn more.

Lambsquarters: Prince of Greens

Edible Wild Foods: Lambs Quarters

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


For the past several years I have been experimenting with growing rhubarb.  In the spring of 2012, I purchased a rhubarb plant variety McDonald, I potted it when it arrived as I did not have the space prepared.  It was almost dead when I received it and put out a couple of very sad leaves before it completely died.  

The company replaced that plant in the spring.  I started Victoria rhubarb from seed, planted two plants in the ground, amended soil with Blackcow cow manure. Didn't harvest anything from them this year.  The winter 2013-14 had a couple of periods of below 10 F temperatures, which is not a regular occurrence in this area.  Our winter are typically warmer.

Spring, topdressed each plant with 10-15 lbs of Black Cow.  Victoria Rhubarb came up first with the McDonald showing signs of life several weeks later.  All grew to a point where I was comfortable harvesting some.  I harvested   __  lbs in ?month.  Was able to make strawberry rhubarb jam and something baked.

The three rhubarb plants are planted on the north east side of the house and are sheltered from the wind.  They get morning sun until almost noon.   I dug and divided the one plant that was closest to the house.  It is a Victoria and it did not seem to be doing as well as the one that was further from the house, the air vent from our gas water heater is near there and probably adds more heat to the area than the rhubarb likes.
3-22-15 The larger Victoria
When I dug and divided the rhubarb it had taproots that went down probably in excess of a foot and a half.  I ended up breaking those to get it out of the ground.   I divided that plant  into two and planted one further out from the house and gave one away. 

 I don't know if the results I'm seeing will be characteristic as we have had colder winters look normal, with periods of time in the single digit temperatures but we will see.  Each year I have given each plants at least 10 pounds of composted Blackcow, and will continue this practice.  This experiment seems to be going well so far and I will be able to harvest quite a bit.  I will harvest 1/3 or the stalks and will report here when I have done that.
4-16-15 Mcdonald on the Left, the other two are Victoria

Friday, April 3, 2015

This is a quick into to my new blog.  It will be about cultivating, growing, planting, learning and living on a suburban half acre near Knoxville, TN.