How to Protect Your Garden from a Spring Frost

Whether you push the gardening season or not, here in Michigan there’s always a danger that a late spring frost will wipe out your lovingly planted spring veggies. The earlier you plant, the more likely this is. The easiest way to almost guarantee that you’ll avoid a frost is to resist planting your vegetable garden (or tender annuals or herbs) until after the last spring frost date. Depending upon where you are in the state, that could be anytime between the first week of May to early July.

However, if you just can’t resist getting your garden started as soon as possible, there are still several things you can do to protect your plants if frost (or even snow) is in the forecast.

How to Protect Your Plants from Frost

If we have a prolonged period of freezing temperatures, your plants may be in trouble no matter what you do. However, if it’s just a day or two, with a bit of protection your plants should be able to come through just fine. The best thing to do is place some kind of barrier over your plants to keep cold air, wind, and frost out of them. Some ideas:

  • Plastic milk jug with the bottom cut out off it, placed over individual plants
  • Old-fashioned garden cloches
  • A cold frame placed over part of a bed
  • A low tunnel covered in plastic
  • A plastic tarp, set over stakes to lift it off of the plants
  • A floating row cover (best for when there’s just a chance of light frost)
  • A sheet or blanket (again, this is a good option for a light frost, not for snow or really frigid weather)
  • A drink cooler, overturned over a few plants. Remove it as soon as possible to ensure that your plants get enough light.
  • A cardboard box. Depending on the size this can cover several plants. Remove the box as soon as possible to let your plants get the light they need.

These ideas will help because they use items that most of us have around the house. We might not all have a cold frame, but chances are good that we can come up with a milk jug or cardboard box if we really need one. Keep these ideas in mind, and you’ll be able to save your garden from those annoying late spring frosts that are a common part of gardening in Michigan.

 

Garden Tip: Make Your Own Seed Tape

Soon, we Michigan gardeners will be stuck indoors, staring forlornly out at our snow or frost-covered gardens. While I’m not in a hurry for that, I know that there are several ways I can keep myself busy, and get my garden off to a good start next spring. One of those ways is to make seed tape. An afternoon or two of work during the winter, and I’ll have perfect, evenly-spaced seeds ready to plant once the time is right.

Supplies:

* Newspaper (black and white, plain newspaper pages) cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch strips, paper towel, or toilet paper
* Flour
* Water
* Seeds
* Ruler

How To Make Seed Tape

1. Make a paste out of flour and water. Start with 1/4 cup of flour, and add water until you have a paste-like consistency. it should easily coat a spoon, not just drip off.

2. Check the instructions on the back of your seed packet (or at the end of this post) to see how far to space seeds apart. Use the ruler, and write marks on your strips of newspaper at the correct intervals.

3. Dab a bit of flour paste onto the marks you wrote.

4. Place a seed (or two, if you’re concerned about whether they’ll germinate or not) into each dab of flour glue.

5. Write the name of the variety on each strip of newspaper.

6. Wait for the flour glue to dry completely, then store your seed tapes in an airtight container, preferably in a cool place until it’s time to plant. The refrigerator works well, as does an unheated garage.

When it’s time to plant, simply place your seed tape in the garden, and cover with soil, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, depending on what type of seed you’re planting. Water in well, keep it moist, and wait for those first sprouts to show up.
Seed Spacing for Common Herbs, and Vegetables

Space your seeds on the seed tape according to the following general recommendations. You can also find this information on your seed packet.

Herbs:
* Basil: 4 inches
* Chives: 6 inches
* Cilantro: 6 inches
* Dill: 12 inches
* Mint: 12 inches
* Oregano: 6 inches
* Parsley: 6 inches
* Sage: 12 inches
* Thyme: 8 inches

Vegetables:
These are small-seeded vegetables that are commonly sown directly in the garden.

* Arugula: 4 inches
* Asian greens (bok choy, tatsoi, mizuna): 4 inches
* Beets: 3 inches
* Carrots: 3 inches
* Collards: 6 inches
* Kale: 6 inches
* Lettuce: 6 inches
* Mustard greens: 6 inches
* Radishes: 2 inches
* Rapini: 6 inches
* Spinach: 4 inches
* Swiss chard: 6 inches

Seed tapes are an easy way to get your garden planted. Even better, you can make these seed tapes during the winter and early spring, while you’re waiting to get out into your garden. They’re also a great project to do with kids.

I originally wrote this post for Planet Green, and wanted to share the info with my readers here at Gardening in the Mitten. You can view the original post here.

All through October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gardening tips. To check out other “31 Days of…” bloggers, check out this post.

How to Grow Amaryllis

amaryllis

The dramatic blooms of amaryllis (Hippeastrum) add even more beauty to the holiday season, or any time of year. While we traditionally think of amaryllis as a holiday flower, they are really just tropical bulbs that can bloom at any time of year, after a period of dormancy followed by plenty of light and warmth (more on that later). You can find amaryllis in just about any color, from pure white, to dramatic red, and even lime green, depending on your tastes.

Amaryllis are quite easy to grow, and not even all that difficult to get to re-bloom. Amaryllis bulbs grown in containers and maintained properly can live as long as fifteen years.

The first thing you need to do is purchase some good-quality bulbs.

 

Purchasing Amaryllis

Starting in November, you’ll start seeing amaryllis bulbs and kits in nurseries and home centers, and they are very common impulse purchases, providing the opportunity to grow flowers even when the outside world is covered in snow. Usually, you won’t find a ton of variety in your local nursery or big box, so if you want something beyond the typical red or white, you’ll probably want to see what is available through catalogs or online.

The amaryllis kits sold in nurseries and home centers usually come with a plastic pot, a bulb, and a disk of compressed coir, all packaged in a box. You’ll want to try to inspect the bulb before you buy. The bulb should be heavy for its size, firm, and not shriveled. Sometimes the bulbs in the kits are already growing leaves and/or a flower stalk, and that’s fine as long as they look healthy and the bulb feels firm and heavy.

Potting Amaryllis

Once you have your amaryllis bulbs, it’s time to pot them up. There are two options here.

The first method you may want to try is to simply fill a pot or other dish with pebbles and set the amaryllis bulb on top. You’d then fill the container with water, to about an inch below the bulb. The roots will make their way down into the water, but you do not want the bulb itself to sit in water as it will rot.

The other method uses soil or the coir disks that come with amaryllis kits. Moisten you soil (or hydrate the coir disk by pouring warm water over it and letting it sit for at least twenty minutes) and fill the pot about half full with soil. Then place your amaryllis bulb, root end down, onto the soil and fill with more soil, but do NOT bury the bulb. You want at least 1/3 of the bulb, including the “shoulders” and the stem, above the soil. Once the bulb is planted, water it in and let any excess water drain.

Amaryllis bulbs can be planted in groups in larger containers, or one bulb to a 6 to 7 inch pot.

Caring for Amaryllis

Whether you use the pebbles and water method or soil method, once your bulb is potted up, you’ll want to place it in a warm, bright place. Ideally, your bulb should get at least eight hours of light per day, and should be kept around seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Water it when the soil dries out a bit, and be sure to let any excess drain to prevent rotting. The bulb will shoot up leaves and a flower stalk in two to eight weeks after planting,  Once it has started blooming, you can move it to any location; it does not need to stay in bright light, and, in fact, the blooms may last longer out of strong light. So if you want to move your amaryllis around for the holidays, that’s perfectly fine. You do not need to do any fertilizing during its bloom period.

Supporting Amaryllis Stems

The easiest way to support a tall, top-heavy amaryllis stem is to place a thin bamboo or coated metal stake deep into the soil, next to the bulb. Be careful when installing the stake; you don’t want to stab into the bulb. Once the stake is installed you can secure the stem to it with a bit of cotton twine or raffia. You don’t need to tie it tightly. A loose loop around both the stem and the stake will keep the stem supported well.

Caring for Amaryllis After Blooming

(Note: if you are not interested in saving the bulb, and plan on purchasing bulbs new every year, you can just compost your bulb after it is done blooming.)

Once your amaryllis finishes blooming, cut the flower stalk off, about two inches above the top of the bulb. Do NOT cut off the leaves, since the leaves will store food so the bulb can bloom again next year. If you grew your amaryllis bulb in water, you’ll now want to go ahead and pot it up in soil or coir, following the planting instructions above. Place the pot in a warm, bright location, and water when the top inch of soil is dry. Fertilize your amaryllis bulb monthly with a balanced fertilizer, compost tea, or fish emulsion. Once it is warm (consistently above sixty degrees) you can move your amaryllis outdoors for the summer. You can simply grow them in the pots, or plant them, pot and all, in your garden in a sunny area. Amaryllis sort of prefer being a bit pot-bound, so it’s better to leave them in their pots rather than transplanting them. Then, when it’s time to bring them back into the house, simply lift them, pot and all, out of the garden and bring them indoors.

Getting Your Amaryllis to Bloom Again

The whole point of keeping your amaryllis bulb was to get it to bloom again. Decide when you’d like it to bloom again. For example, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another holiday. You’ll need to do some planning if you have a particular bloom time in mind. You’ll want to bring the amaryllis indoors, cut the foliage off just above the bulb, and store the bulb in a cool dark place (no cooler than 55 degrees) for eight to ten weeks, without watering. This is dormancy, and is necessary for the bulb to bloom again. After the eight to ten weeks are up, you can give it a good watering, allowing excess water to drain, and move the bulb to a warm, bright location. Do not water the bulb at this point, unless the soil becomes very dry. When new green growth emerges, you can begin watering again when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch, and the cycle begins all over again.

 

In general, amaryllis are not very demanding. Plenty of light, warmth, and attention to watering, and you’ll be able to grow gorgeous blooms indoors. While keeping them and making them rebloom year after year is a bit more work, it can definitely be worth it for those who are collecting amaryllis or who want to eventually fill their home with these beautiful flowers.

How to Make Roasted Green Tomatoes

The end of the gardening season, the threat of impending frost, usually leaves me contemplating ways to save and/or use all of the green tomatoes still maturing on my tomato plants. Here is one easy, delicious way to put those green tomatoes to use: roasting!

How to Oven Roast Green Tomatoes

This is another one of those non-recipe recipes. Here’s how you do it.
1. Quarter large tomatoes (such as ‘Brandywine’ or ‘Polish Linguisa’). Halve smaller tomatoes, such as ‘Roma’ or ‘Japanese Black Trifele.’ Leave cherry tomatoes whole. You don’t need to worry about removing the seeds.

2. Place the cut-up tomatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Rimmed is important — there will be a lot of juice!

3. Drizzle some olive oil over the top of the tomatoes, then add salt and pepper. I like my tomatoes a little on the spicy side, so I also added a few crushed red pepper flakes to mine.

4. Use your hands to swoosh the tomatoes around in the oil to ensure that they’re all coated.

5. Place your tomatoes in a pre-heated 250 degree oven. Let your tomatoes roast for 1.5 to 2 hours, until they are soft. (Note: I’ve seen recommendations for everything from 250 to 400 degrees for roasting. I tend to get a burned mess when I roast at 400, but if you like more charring on the tomatoes, go for it. I like 250 because it results in a nice, slow, gentle roasting and very tender, sweet roasted green tomatoes.)

How to Use Roasted Green Tomatoes

You could do what Gayla Trail recommends, and eat the roasted green tomatoes slathered on a piece of crusty bread. You could use them to top a pizza, or in pasta, or as a really unique topping to a burger (roasted green tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese — yum.)

If you’re not able to use them up right away, put your roasted tomatoes (after they’ve cooled) into a freezer container or freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to six months. Simply thaw them overnight in the refrigerator the night before you want to use them.

This is a good way to make use of something that many of us end up composting. Have you tried roasted green tomatoes?

How to Grow Sprouts

Equipment for Sprouting:

My favorite way to grow sprouts is simply in a canning jar with a bit of cheesecloth (doubled) affixed over the opening. However, you can also purchase specialty sprouting supplies, such as bags (usually made of hemp) for sprouting, or sprouting trays or machines. These can be nice convenience items, and I’ve heard from people who love them, but I’m sticking with the jar method.

Search for “sprouters” to find different models. You can also purchase plastic lids that fit on a canning jar, if you’d rather not bother with cheesecloth or straining your water through a sieve every day.

Popular Seeds for Sprouting:

Note: Look for seeds specifically being sold as “sprouting” seeds or labelled “for sprouts.” These are certified pathogen-free. Most seed catalogs carry at least some sprouting seeds; you can usually find at least a variety or two on the seed racks at your local nursery as well.

**Alfalfa
**Radish
*Mustard
**Watercress
**Arugula
**Clover
**Beans (adzuki, black, mung, garbanzo, pinto, lentils, soybeans)
**Peas
**Broccoli
**Cabbage
**Kale
**Mizuna
**Tatsoi
**Turnip
**Grains (such as wheat, barley, quinoa, corn, millet, oata, and rice)
**Pumpkin
**Sunflower

Days from Seed to Sprout:

Depending on the variety, sprouts take about three to seven days before they’re ready to eat. Eat them when they’ve sprouted their cotyledons.

More Articles About Growing Sprouts and Microgreens:

**How to Grow Sprouts in a Jar

**Sprout Safety

**Growing Microgreens

**Five Tasty Sprouts to Try

Pickled Watermelon Rind

How to Make Easy Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

 

This was one of those projects I approached with some trepidation. On one hand, the phrase “watermelon rind pickles” is not exactly yum-inducing. On the other hand….I have yet to meet a pickle I didn’t like.

And we can now add watermelon rind pickles to the “pickles I will devour with abandon” list.

We had about half of a decent-sized watermelon, which I cut up and we snacked on. And since hearing about watermelon rind pickles a few years ago, I feel a little guilty not putting those rinds to use. We do compost them, so it’s not like they go to waste, exactly. But if you can get one more edible use out of them, why not, right?

So I Googled, and I compared recipes, and I ultimately ended up making something of my own based on what I found, what sounded good, and what I had on hand (I wanted to make them NOW, without going to the grocery store.) Also, most of the recipes I came across had what seemed like ridiculous amounts of sugar. I wanted just a hint of sweetness, plenty of sour, and a bit of spicy kick. I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out!

Here’s the recipe I used (this made 2 quarts and 1 pint of pickles).

Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

  • Rinds from 1/2 of a large watermelon, prepared as described below
  • 4 cups vinegar (white, apple cider, or white wine would all be good — I used regular white distilled vinegar this time)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (you could toss a stick or two into the brine, if you have sticks instead of ground)
  • 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1. Prepare the rind. If you slice your watermelon into 1-inch slices, that will make prep easy. You want to end up with roughly one-inch chunks for your pickles. Try to leave at least 1/4 inch of the pink watermelon flesh on the rind — this adds nice flavor and really pretty color to your brine. You need to take off the outer green layer of rind. It was really easy to do this by using a regular vegetable peeler to remove the green parts. Do this, and you’re left with slices that look like this:

 

After you’ve got the slices peeled, then just cut them into roughly 1 to 1.5 inch cubes. TIP: The areas of the rind that have turned yellow are much tougher than the green areas. Avoid using this part, or, if you choose to use the yellow part of the rind, forego the vegetable peeler and use a paring knife instead; you’ll have to remove more of the rind to get down to the softer white part.

Set your cubes aside while you make your brine.

 

To make the brine, just add your vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a pan that will be large enough to accommodate the brine plus all of your watermelon rinds. Bring this to a boil, stirring regularly to help dissolve the sugar and salt.

Once the brine has reached a boil, add your watermelon rind and bring the mixture up to a boil again. Let it boil for about a minute, then remove it from the heat. Add your cinnamon and red pepper flakes, and let the mixture sit and cool for an hour or so.

Once the mixture is cool enough to handle safely, add the pickles to jars or other containers, adding enough of your brine to cover the pickles completely. Store them in the refrigerator. You can eat them as soon as they’re cool, if you want (and I did….) but they’re even better if the flavors are allowed to meld a bit overnight.

These pickles will keep for about a month. Please note that these are not pantry storage pickles — they need to be kept in the refrigerator and eaten within a fairly short amount of time.

These were SO good. And you can really mess with the recipe quite a bit. I wanted something fast, and many of the traditional recipes recommend making the brine, soaking the rind in it overnight, and then doing a hot water bath process so you can store them in the pantry. I may try that later on. You can also play quite a bit with the spices:

This is definitely a pickle you can tailor to your own tastes. Have fun with it!

More About Preserving the Harvest:

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

How to Make Dill Pickles

How to Make Pickled Green Tomatoes

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar

Dilly Beans

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

I don’t know about you, but I reach that point every summer, right around mid-August, where I can’t look at another bean. I don’t care if they’re yellow or green, or even the pretty purple ones I’m growing this year. That’s when it’s time to pull out the big guns: time to make some dilly beans. Dilly beans are vinegar-y, garlicky, dilly (obviously…) bits of crisp deliciousness with just a little bit of a kick to them thanks to the addition of hot peppers. The heat can be adjusted to your liking, so whether you like them mild or zippy, it will work just fine. Oh, and the best part: you don’t need any canning supplies for this project. You don’t even need special jars. I reused a jar from store-bought sauerkraut for mine. Use whatever you have on hand, as long as it’s glass and has a lid. This really couldn’t be easier. Here’s what you’ll need: 2 cups of beans (about one huge, overflowing handful), 1 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of water, 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 of a medium onion, sliced thinly, 2 sprigs of fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon of dill seeds), 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (depending on how hot you want them) — you can also add a whole dried chile if you have one. I didn’t, so I used flakes. 1. Make your brine. This is the longest part of this process (and it only takes a few minutes!) so do this first. Add your water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and garlic (which you’ve minced) to a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn it off and set it aside to cool down to room temperature. 2. Trim the beans. You want them all to fit in your jar with about an inch at the top so the brine covers them completely. You can trim both ends, or just the stem end. I think the pointy blossom end of beans are pretty, so I leave them. It’s up to you. 3. Blanch the beans. Bring a saucepan of water to a full boil, then dump the beans in and boil them for thirty seconds. Drain them, and quickly add them to a bowl of iced water to shock them and stop the cooking process. You want your beans to be brightly colored and still crisp.

4. Drain the beans and set them aside. Add your onions, dill, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns to your jars.

5. Now add your beans to the jars. They look prettiest standing upright, but don’t worry about being perfect. The easiest way is to lay the jar on its side, or hold i

t horizontally, and place the beans inside.

6. Go ahead and pour your brine in once it has reached room temperature. Fill the jar to 1/2 inch below the top of the jar, and put the lid on. Place the jar of dilly beans in the fridge, and let them sit for at least two days before eating them. They’ll keep for up to six months in the fridge, but I’ll bet you foldable money that you won’t have them around nearly that long!

I hope you give these a try. They’re really easy, and a great way to preserve all of those crisp beans from your garden.

More About Preserving the Harvest: