Fast-Growing Vegetables to Direct Sow into Containers

I recently wrote about quick-growing vegetables (a harvest from seed in less than two months) that gardeners could direct-sow into their garden. Which is great if you have space for a garden! But if you have limited garden space, or your only option is containers or window boxes, you can still grow many of those quick-growing crops.

Easiest Option: Greens and Lettuces

You can grow any leaf lettuce or green in a container! Mesclun mixes, spinach, kale, rapini, chard — you can grow them to full-size if you like, but in containers you’ll get the most out of your container garden by harvesting them as baby greens.

Harvesting as baby greens means that you’ll be able to harvest about three to four weeks after you sow your seeds, and, after harvesting, just let the plants start re-growing, and you’ll get successive harvests every month or so. To keep yourself in lettuces and greens throughout the season, sow a few containers, say, one every week or two, and you’ll have continual harvests. When one container starts not regenerating as fully as you’d like, simply sprinkle more seeds over the soil’s surface and scratch them in, then tamp them down. Good as new!

Container size for growing lettuces and greens: any container that is four to six inches deep will work perfectly. Windowboxes, shallow pots, reused clamshell containers from storebought salad mixes — I’ve grown lettuce and greens successfully in all of them.

Tips for growing lettuce and greens in containers:

  • Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Lettuces don’t like drying out, and they’ll get limp and can sometimes be a bit bitter if they spend too much time dried out. They’re also much more likely to bolt because they’re under stress.
  • To keep your lettuce growing happily, fertilize every month or so with a good organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion when I water, or you can use a granular organic fertilizer in your planting mix and then sprinkled occasionally onto the top of the soil.

Root Crops for Containers

Root crops you sow directly into your containers are going to be those that don’t require enormously deep pots (full-size carrots might be a challenge here, but there are several shorter varieties I’ll recommend) and again, we’ll be focusing on those that grow fairly quickly when sown directly from seed.

Container depth for growing root veggies: 6 to 8 inches

Beets

You can grow beets in containers fairly easily, whether for the delicious beet greens, to harvest the roots, or both. You’ll want to keep the soil moisture fairly even to keep them growing quickly and to avoid woodiness, but not soggy. Feed with a balanced organic fertilizer according to the directions for whichever fertilizer you’re using. Your beets should be ready to harvest about 6 to 8 weeks after sowing, but you can harvest beet greens before then. Some of my favorite beets to grow in containers:

  • Golden – 55 days
  • Detroit Dark Red – 55 days
  • Chioggia – 55 days
  • Bull’s Blood – 50 days
  • Subeto – 45 days
  • Babybeat – 40 days

Carrots

Long, tapered roots are difficult to grow unless you have a very large container. Luckily, there are several nice, short carrot varieties that perform well in containers! Keep an eye out for any of these varieties:

  • Minicor – 55 days
  • Thumbelina – 60 days
  • Adelaide – 50 days
  • Paris Market – 58 days
  • Napoli – 55 days
  • Red Cored Chantenay – 60 days
  • Caracas – 57 days
  • Little Finger – 57 days

Radishes

Radishes and container-growing is a match made in heaven. From sowing to harvesting is often right around three weeks. They can take a bit of shade (especially when it starts getting hot — radishes aren’t fans of summer heat) and they’re easy to grow. Keep the moisture consistent to avoid your radishes from becoming too spicy or woody. Nearly any radish seed you can get your hands on will work here, but here are my favorites:

  • Cherry Belle
  • French Breakfast
  • Easter Egg

Turnips

I think we often think of turnips as definitely being a larger garden crop. At least, I did before I started growing them regularly. And while some can get large, certain varieties are perfect for container growing and offer both delicious roots and tasty greens in around four weeks. Here are some of the best ones to grow in containers

  • Hakurei
  • Tokyo Market
  • Tokyo Cross

Cucumbers and Summer Squashes for Containers

Sunburst Pattypan Squash – Johnny’s Seeds

Cucumbers and squashes can both easily be grown from seed, and while they both tend to be large, vining, sometimes sprawling plants, there are several varieties that do very well in containers.

Sow cucumbers and squashes directly into your containers after your soil has warmed — these plants germinate best when the soil temp is right around 70 degrees F. They’ll germinate in less than a week, usually, and you’ll just have to be sure to keep the soil evenly moist. Squashes and cucumbers are fairly heavy feeders, so a regular feeding of a balanced organic fertilizer (according to the package directions) or a weekly foliar feed of compost or manure tea or fish emulsion will keep your plants happy and productive.

Container depth for growing cucumbers and squash: 10 inches.

Cucumbers

In general, you’ll want to look for cucumber plants that have a bushy rather than vining growth habit. Luckily, breeders have been working to adapt cucumbers’ typical vining growth to a more easily-managed bushy form.

  • Lemon – 60 days
  • Salad Bush – 57 days
  • Sweet Success – 50 days

Summer Squash

Again, we’ll be looking for plants that are productive, fairly compact, and will produce from seed in about two months. The good news is, you have several good options for container-grown summer squash:

  • Eight Ball – 42 days
  • Gold Rush – 52 days
  • Pattypan – 50 days
  • Sunburst – 52 days
  • Spacemiser – 45 days
  • Sundance – 50 days
  • Zephyr – 45 days

I hope this post has been helpful. You do not need indoor lighting and heat mat set-ups, cell packs, domed trays or any of those other things. You don’t even really need a garden. Some containers, potting soil, and seeds, a spot that gets a decent amount of sun, and you are well on your way to growing your own veggies!

Fast-Growing Vegetables for Short-Season Gardeners – No Indoor Seed Starting Needed!

Easy vegetables to start from seed in your garden.
Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

If you’re growing a vegetable garden, and are interested in becoming as self-sufficient as you’re able to regardless of whether you live in the country or the city, you’ll want to get as much out of your garden as you possibly can. But here in beautiful Michigan, you may be “blessed” with six months or more of frosty temps, depending on where you live.

If you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse or high-tunnel, or even a few cold frames, you can extend your growing season, but if the growing season is short to begin with, you’ll really want to make the most of it.

Typically, if we want to start a vegetable garden quickly, we go to the nursery and buy starts. Or, if you already have the lights and space indoors, you can start your own plants from seed.

But what if you don’t have the time/equipment/space for indoor seed starting? In that case, quick-growing veggies that you can sow directly into your garden are your best bet. Here is a list of tried-and-true varieties and where to find them, most of which I’ve grown right here in my zone 4 Michigan garden, or which have been grown successfully by other cold climate gardeners. You’ll notice I don’t have things like tomatoes or peppers in this list. This is simply because in most cases tomatoes are better started indoors so they fruit as quickly as possible in your garden. The same is true of other heat-loving favorites like peppers and eggplant. These are better grown from starts, but if you can’t get some starts, don’t fret — there are plenty of other tasty veggies you can sow directly into your garden!

In compiling this list, I tried to focus on three things: tried and true by northern gardeners, a harvest in 2 months or less, and varieties that are available widely (so not exclusive to one company or seed catalog.) I hope you find it helpful!

Quick-Growing Veggies to Plant in Your Garden

Beans – Bush beans are your best option here. They produce sooner than pole beans do, but something to keep in mind is that they’re basically determinate plants, meaning they give you a crop pretty much all at once and then they’re done. I like to sow bush beans every two weeks, so once they start producing I have an almost continual harvest of them until our first frost. Here are some of my favorite quick-growing bush bean varieties:

  • Provider – 50 days
  • Early Bush Italian – 50 days
  • Mascotte – 50 days
  • Masai – 47 days
  • Rocdor – 52 days
  • Strike – 45 days
  • Bountiful – 46 days
  • Golden Butter Wax – 50 days
  • Blue Lake 274 – 53 days

Beets – Beets are a good 2-for-1 veggie to grow; you can get both tasty greens to cook or add to salads, plus the roots themselves. Beets tend to do much better in cooler weather, so you’ll want to plant them in spring after your last frost date, or in late summer for a fall harvest. Good short-season beet varieties include:

  • Babybeat – 40 days
  • Boltardy – 46 days
  • Crosby Egyptian – 45 days
  • Detroit White – 55 days
  • Bull’s Blood – 50 days
  • Early Wonder Tall Top – 50 days
  • Boro – 50 days
  • Subeto – 45 days

Broccoli Raab/Rapini – Broccoli raab is an early season veggie that produces both tasty greens and small, broccoli-like florets. The greens are best eaten sauteed in olive oil or butter, and the florets can be eaten the same way, or raw.

  • Hon Tsai Flowering Broccoli – 37 days
  • Spring Raab Broccoli Raab – 42 days

Carrots – Most carrots take around 70 days to grow to full-size. The varieties listed here tend to provide smallish, tender carrots in less than two months. Sow carrot seed every week or two provide a continual harvest throughout the season.

  • Caracas – 57 days
  • Yaya – 55 days
  • Mokum – 54 days
  • Napoli – 55 days

Chard – Chard, also called Swiss Chard, provides both dark leafy greens and delicious stalks that can be sauteed, added to soups, or baked into casseroles. You can harvest the leaves as baby greens and eat them in salads, or let them grow larger if you plan to cook them. As an added bonus, chard is one of the few greens that handles summer heat well; it will also handle frost reasonably well, giving you a long harvest. If you simply harvest the outer stalks, it will keep producing reliably until it finally freezes. The days listed below are for full-sized leaves. Baby chard can be harvested in about a month after sowing.

  • Fordhook Giant – 50 days
  • Silverado – 55 days
  • Bright Lights – 55 days

Cucumbers – If you have a few healthy cucumber plants, they will provide you with more than enough sweet, crispy cucumbers for salads, pickles, and snacking. Whether you have plenty of room or can only devote a patio pot to growing cucumbers, there is a fast-growing variety that will work for you.

  • Garden Sweet Burpless – 55 days
  • Straight Eight – 58 days
  • Bush Champion – 55 days
  • Salad Bush Hybrid – 57 days
  • Spacemaster – 56 days

Greens (Miscellaneous) – If you’re trying to grow an edible garden quickly, from seed, and get a TON of nutrition out of it, you can’t go wrong with greens. Most will give you a harvest in about four weeks, and there are so many to choose from! Try arugula, mizuna, mache, tat soi, pak choi, mustard greens, chicory, cress, sorrel, or claytonia. You can also often find mixes of these greens, and these are quick, easy ways to get a variety of tasty greens into your garden.

Kale

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Kale in another green, like chard, that you can plant in your garden, and it will often just keep going straight through your first hard fall frost, and beyond. I’m actually harvesting kale that overwintered in my northern Michigan garden, with no protection, and it is tasty and perfect. You can harvest the baby kale leaves to eat raw in salads or on sandwiches about three weeks after sowing, but full-size kale leaves take a little longer. The nice thing is, you don’t have to choose. You can have a plant or two that you just continually pick baby leaves from, and another plant or two that you let grow to full-size leaves, giving you a longer harvesting window! Here are some of my favorite kale varieties:

  • Red Russian – 50 days full leaf, 21 days baby leaf
  • Lacinato – 60 days full leaf, 30 days baby leaf
  • Darkibor – 50 days full leaf (curly kale, not great for raw eating)
  • Dwarf Green Curled – 50 days full leaf (curly kale, not great for raw eating)
  • Prizm – 50 days full leaf, 30 days baby leaf

Lettuce – Lettuce is quick, easy, and if you grow the right types, you can get an almost continual harvest from them. The only trick is, growing lettuce in the summer even in mild areas can be tricky; the plant is quick to bolt, and once it bolts the lettuce becomes bitter and just not at all as delicious as it should be. One way to get around summer bolting is to plant your lettuce in an area that gets partial shade. It won’t grow as quickly, but it will be much slower to bolt. If you can give it morning sun and afternoon shade, that would be ideal. And be sure to keep the soil moist, which will cause less stress for your lettuce plants even during summer heat.

Head lettuces are not really your friend if you’re trying to grow food quickly. Iceberg lettuce, for example, takes almost three months, and you harvest it once and it’s done. You’ll want to look for leaf lettuces, which you can start harvesting in about three weeks as baby leaves for salads, and which will allow you to make several subsequent harvests. Just cut the leaves off a couple inches above the soil line and they’ll resprout, giving you another salad in a few weeks. If you make regular sowings of lettuce, sowing a row or block or container every week or two, you’ll keep yourself in salads for most of the season. Here are some terrific lettuces to look for. (The numbers cited are for full-sized leaves; you can harvest at about three weeks for baby-leaf salads.)

  • Salad Bowl – 45 days
  • Black-Seeded Simpson – 45 days
  • Red Sails – 45 days
  • Lolla Rosa – 45 days
  • Saladbowl – 50 days
  • Red Saladbowl – 55 days
  • Red Oak Leaf – 60 days

You can also just look for mesclun mixes. These are combinations of leaf lettuce seeds, usually containing several of the above varieties, plus many others for added color and flavor. As with the above varieties, you can usually harvest your first salad in three to four weeks, though you can let them go a little longer if you want larger leaves.

Onions – Your best option for quick-growing onions you can direct sow in your garden are green onions, or scallions, which will produce nice large stalks about 60 days after sowing, or which you can slowly snip away at as you need them, allowing the greens to keep growing. Bulb onions take a long time and have to be started indoors. If you can buy onion sets online or from a nursery, that will give you a head start. But for quick and easy, scallions are the way to go.

  • Parade – 60 days
  • Guardsman – 50 days
  • Red Baron – 60 days
  • White Lisbon – 60 days

Peas – Sweet, tender peas from the garden are a delight, and they’re very easy to grow up a fence or small trellis. Here in Michigan, we plant peas as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. This is because they have a much harder time in warm weather, so you want them to start growing and producing pods while the temps are still nice and cool to get the most out of your planting. For a quick, easy crop, you’ll want to focus on snap peas or snow peas. These are the peas with edible pods (no shelling here!) which you can eat raw or quickly sauteed. You can grow shelling peas in about the same amount of time, and if you love peas, it’s definitely worth it, but the amount of work to shell them as well as the sheer number of plants you need to grow to harvest a good amount of peas make them a little less practical for our quick and easy garden.

  • Sugar Ann – 52 days
  • Super Sugar Snap – 61 days
  • Avalanche – 60 days
  • Oregon Giant – 60 days
  • Sugar Snap – 58 days

Radishes

Photo by Wendy van Zyl from Pexels

If you want to harvest something quickly, grow radishes! And don’t think you’re only limited to eating them raw with dip (which is the only way I seemed to eat them most of my life — though that’s delightful as well!) You can eat them sliced into salads or onto sandwiches, grated into salads or slaws, pickled, or even halved and roasted in the oven and served as a side dish. The spicy greens are also edible and can be eaten sauteed or added to soups. I’ve also seen recipes for radish green pesto, which I want to try this year. Radishes are easy to grow, but definitely prefer cool weather, so your best bet is to grow them as a spring or fall veggie. Here are some radish varieties that I have absolutely loved:

  • Cherry Belle – 22 days
  • Rover – 21 days
  • Easter Egg – 30 days (multicolored radish mix – very fun to grow!)
  • Sora – 23 days
  • French Breakfast – 26 days
  • White Icicle – 27 days
  • Pearl – 25 days
  • Pink Beauty – 27 days

Summer Squash

Fast growing summer squash varieties,
Photo by Ellie Burgin from Pexels

We’ve all heard the joke about neighbors being the unsuspecting… sometimes unwilling, recipients of a gardener’s overabundance of zucchini and summer squash. Summer squashes give you a LOT of bang for your gardening buck, and a plant or two will likely keep your family (depending on family size, of course) in squash until your first fall frost. If you’re trying to eat as much as you can from your garden, don’t be so quick to give those extra zucchini away. You can shred them and then freeze them in a plastic bag to add to zucchini breads or fritters in the winter. Or slice and freeze them to throw into soups or to sautee as a side dish long after the garden has gone to sleep for the winter. You can make zucchini pickles as well. Or make a batch of zucchini bread and freeze that for a day when you’re craving something sweet. Can you tell I’m a fan of summer squash? Here are a few of my quick-growing favorites:

  • Green Machine – 45 days
  • Yellow Crookneck – 50 days
  • Costata Romanesco – 54 days
  • Gold Star – 50 days
  • Early Prolific Straightneck – 50 days
  • Fordhook – 57 days
  • Black Beauty – 50 days

Spinach – Rich in iron, calcium, and fiber, spinach is delicious eaten raw as baby leaves or cooked at any stage of its growth. Spinach definitely prefers cool weather and, like lettuce, will bolt when the temperatures get too high. Spinach also freezes well, so if you end up growing an overabundance of it, give it a quick blanch in boiling water, and then freeze it to use later in the season. Here are the varieties I grow almost every year here in my zone 4 garden:

  • Bloomsdale Long Standing – 40 days
  • Space – 40 days
  • Kookaburra – 26 days
  • Corvair – 40 days
  • Matador – 43 days
  • Winter Bloomsdale – 45 days

Turnips – Like radishes and beets, turnips are a multi-harvest veggie to grow in your garden. The roots are edible (some can be eaten raw as snacks or added to salads, while others are delicious roasted) as are the greens. We’ve only really focused on growing turnips in the last couple of years or so, but now I can’t imagine my garden without them!

  • Tokyo Market – 35 days
  • Hakurei – 35 days
  • Purple Top White Globe – 55 days
  • Tokyo Cross – 35 days

Tips for Direct Sowing

Direct sowing seeds directly into your garden beds is fairly straightforward, but you’ll have the most success if you keep a few tips in mind:

  1. Plant at the right time. Your seed packet will tell you when the optimum time is for planting. Sometimes it will be before your last frost date, sometimes it will be after your last frost date, and sometimes it will be when nighttime lows are above a certain threshold.
  2. Start with a well-prepared garden bed. This can be an area you’ve dug up in your yard, a raised bed, or even a container (I’ll have more about veggies suited for container growing in my next post!) The area should be free of weeds, grass, rocks, and other debris, and should be as level as you can make it. The soil should be fluffy, and shouldn’t be walked on if you can at all help it. If you’re not sure how fertile your soil is, you can either send your soil out to have it tested via the Michigan State Extension service, or, if you just want to get growing, add a few inches of compost or composted manure and gently mix it into the top inch or two of soil. Whether you have to buy bagged or bulk or if you’ve made your own, any compost is good compost, and will give your veggies the nice, healthy growing medium they need.
  3. Pay attention to planting depths. On the back of your seed packet, it will tell you exactly how deep to plant the seeds for best germination. Some larger seeds will need to be buried a half an inch to one inch deep, and smaller seeds will need 1/4 inch or less. Some, you will barely cover. If you bury too deeply, the seed might not germinate at all, and if you don’t bury deeply enough, the seeds will dry out, get eaten by birds, or (in some cases) won’t have the darkness they need for germination.
  4. Water well, but gently. Once your seeds are planted, you’ll want to be careful with watering until they’ve established some roots. If you give them a strong blast with your hose, you’re likely to wash them away or knock them out of the nice neat rows or blocks you sowed them in. A gentle misting from a hose-end sprayer, or watering from a watering can that has a watering rosette on the end (one of those ends with holes to disperse the water) is recommended at this stage. You’ll want to keep the seeds evenly moist, and don’t let the area dry out.

October is Garlic Planting Time!

If you live in Michigan, October is when we usually plant our spring-flowering bulbs, and that includes garlic. I’ve written an entire post with the details about how to grow garlic, but I figured it might be fun to share some step-by-step photos of this year’s garlic planting.

This year, we ordered Red Chinook garlic. It’s a hardneck variety, which is essential here in our cold Michigan climate. One pound of garlic yielded around 60 cloves — if every clove grows into a bulb (or head) of garlic, we’ll have over a head of garlic per week after next year’s harvest.

I might need to plant more.

Most hardneck varieties of garlic provide 5 to 7 cloves per head, so if you don’t use a ton of garlic in your cooking, a pound of garlic should do it for you. We use quite a bit more than that, so I’m thinking of trying to get my hands on another pound of garlic before the month is up.

Buying Garlic for Planting

I usually order my garlic in August or whenever seed catalogs start emailing me that they have garlic available. The earlier you order, the better chance you have of getting the variety you want — certain varieties tend to sell out quickly. So I order in August or September, and then the company ships the garlic at the right time for planting, which is great — you don’t have to worry about storing your garlic before planting and it won’t dry out on you. Once you have your garlic, plant it as soon as you can so it can start getting established in your garden.

If you don’t manage to order in time, or if you, like me, just need more garlic, another good idea is to look at your local farmer’s market or grocer for locally-grown organic garlic. You can plant cloves from this garlic as well, and because it’s local, you already know that it grows well in your area.

Planting Garlic

garden bed preparation for planting garlic

As with all gardening, the most important step is prepping the soil. Here at our new place, we have the exact opposite soil we gardened in for all those years in Detroit. We had heavy clay soil at our old place, and here, our soil is very sandy (Kalkaska sand, to be specific). At our old place, we were always trying to lighten up our soil. Here, our main priority is adding nutrients and moisture retaining materials. The funny thing is that in either situation, you want to add lots and lots of compost.

That stuff is magical. Seriously.

So to this bed, which we just dug last month, we added plenty of compost, composted manure, and peat. Garlic likes well-drained, nutrient-rich soil, so all of that composted manure will be appreciated. To up the nutrients in our sandy soil, I also added a slow-release organic fertilizer to the soil and mixed it in. In this case, I added Espoma Garden-Tone. This bed is dug about a foot deep. Garlic likes deep roots, so it will get off to a good start if you take the time to dig the bed deeply.

head of garlic, garlic bulb, planting garlic

When you receive your planting garlic, it will look just like it does when you buy garlic at the grocery store — in heads (or bulbs).

As an aside, how pretty is that Red Chinook garlic? I just love the color of this variety.

So once you have your bed ready, go ahead and separate these heads into individual cloves.

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A quick note: don’t do this too far in advance. A day or two at most, otherwise the cloves might dry out and they won’t be any good for planting. I always divide my garlic heads right before I’m ready to plant them.

Once you have them divided, it’s time to plant. Dig holes or trenches two to three inches deep. If you have heavy clay, as I did in my old garden, sometimes it’s easier to just dig a long trench, plunk the cloves in, and cover it all over. However, if you have nice, loose soil, it’s very easy to either just poke the cloves into the soil with your fingers, or use a small trowel to pull the soil aside, pop a clove in, and cover it over.

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When you plant garlic, make sure you’re planting it right side up. There’s a root end and stem end. The stem end is pointy, and you want that pointing up.

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I like to set my cloves out into the bed first, so I can make sure I’m getting the spacing right. Garlic should be planted about four inches apart.

What’s Next?

Once you have all of  your garlic planted, it’s a great idea to cover the area with four to six inches of mulch. Autumn leaves work (chop them first with a lawnmower), as does straw or shredded bark. The reason we mulch it is to not only keep the soil moist, but also because in areas where we have issues with the ground freezing and thawing during the season, having the mulch in place helps prevent frost heaving. (Frost heaving happens when the ground freezes and thaws and ends up pushing the bulbs, or even entire plants, right out of the soil. Definitely not what we want!)

And with that, you’re done. Next spring, you’ll start seeing the garlic foliage and scapes popping up in the garden, and then you’ll know you’re only a few months away from harvesting your own home-grown garlic.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions about growing garlic, don’t be shy — go ahead and ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

Planting and Growing Garlic

garlic4

 

Garlic is a must for many cooks, and the great news is that here in Michigan, it’s actually very easy to grow garlic. It can be tucked just about anywhere in the garden, and, when you grow it yourself, you really get two crops in one. You get the bulbs, which is what most people think of when growing garlic, but you also get the scapes (which are the flower stems) which you can harvest in late spring to early summer. The scapes provide a delicate garlic flavor, and are great in many dishes that would benefit from a bit of garlicky goodness.  Let’s take a look at how to grow perfect garlic here in Michigan.

 

Garlic Types: Hardneck or Softneck?

There are two general types of garlic to choose from: hardneck and softneck. Michigan gardeners will have better success with hardneck varieties.

Hardneck Garlic Varieties (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon)

Hardneck garlic varieties are generally hardier than softneck varieties, making them the best option for Michigan gardeners. They are also the best option if you want to enjoy garlic scapes, because hardnecks are the only type that send up a storng central stem, or scape,  in spring. Hardneck varieties tend to form fewer cloves per bulb than softneck varieties, but the individual cloves tend to be bigger.

Within the hardneck family, there are nine sub-types of garlics: Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban, Rocambole, and Porcelain. The Purple Stripe and Rocambole types are the hardiest, best for gardeners in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and other parts of the state with very long, cold winters. Gardeners who live in warmer zones, such as those in southern lower Michgan, can easily grow all of the hardneck types.

 

How and When to Plant Garlic in Michigan

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Here in Michigan, you’ll want to plant your garden in October and November — before the ground freezes hard, but after we start getting cooler temperatures. This will allow the bulbs to start forming roots before we get a deep freeze.

Garlic needs a site in full sun to grow well. To plant garlic, dig holes or furrows six inches apart and three inches deep in loose, well-drained soil. Place individual cloves (separate them – don’t plant entire bulbs of garlic)  in the holes, pointy end up, and cover with soil. Water them in. If you have squirrels or other animals that try digging them up, consider covering the area with chicken wire or wire mesh — the foliage and scapes can still grow  through it, but it will deter wildlife from digging them up.

Spread a six-inch deep layer of organic mulch, such as fall leaves or straw, over the planting area. Within six to eight weeks, shoots might emerge if the weather is warm enough.  This is fine — the plant will stop growing once the soil gets cold, and growth will start up again in the spring.

 

Companion Planting: What to Plant Near Garlic

Garlic is one of those crops that you can plant throughout your garden to help naturally deter pests. It actually accumulates sulfur, which is a naturally-occurring fungicide that will help protect your plants from diseases. Garlic also helps repel insects such as aphids.

Best Companion Plants for Garlic

Garlic helps the plants listed below grow better. Because garlic isn’t overly picky about where it is planted (as long as it is in full sun), it’s easy to tuck it into the garden wherever you have a spare spot. Plant garlic near: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, carrots, and kohlrabi.

Avoid planting garlic near beans and peas, since it may stunt the growth of both plants.

 

Garlic Pests and Problems

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Garlic really isn’t bothered by many pests or disease issues. Rot can sometimes be a problem; guard against this by providing your garlic with good, well-draining soil. The most common pest is squirrels and other animals, which may dig up the bulbs. Deter them with chicken wire, as mentioned above in the “planting” section.

Another common concern gardeners have is that sometimes the garlic will send up green growth in the fall after planting, when we don’t expect to see any foliage until spring. This is nothing to worry about; growth will halt once the weather cools, and the bulb will send up new green growth in the spring.

 

Growing and Harvesting Garlic

Once you have your garlic planted, there really isn’t much to do. In spring, give the bed a topdressing of compost and/or bloodmeal, then do this again once you see the scapes. Harvest the scapes when they just  begin to curl. When the foliage has turned yellow and dead looking, it’s time to harvest your garlic. Dig it up, and let it cure in a dry place for several days.

How to Make Dill Pickles

We plant several cucumber varieties each year, at least half of which are pickling cucumbers. (An aside: a common source of confusion is what makes a pickling cucumber a pickling cucumber. The simple answer is that they have thinner, bumpier skin — the better to absorb all of that lovely brine!)

Dill pickles are actually really easy to make. Here’s how to do it!

I used this recipe because, as written, it’s good for making a small batch of pickles (three to four pints) but, even better — you can halve everything, and make just a jar or two if you don’t have that many cucumbers on hand.

First, you need to assemble your equipment:

 

pick1You need a boiling water canner (if you don’t have one, a stainless steel stockpot will do. A cotton dishtowel folded and laid inside the pot will help stabilize the jars), pint jars, rings, and new lids. **If you want to forego the boiling water processing all together, you can also make refrigerator pickles with this recipe. If you do that, you can use any clean jar you want, and you don’t have to worry about having a pot to process your jars in. I’ll explain more later.

Not necessary, but it’s also helpful to have jar tongs, a magnetic lid lifter, and a jar funnel.

Fill the big pot so that the surface of the water is two inches higher than the tops of your jars. Place jars and lids in the pot (you can do lids in a separate pot, or the same one as your jars — doesn’t matter) and bring the water to a boil to sterilize everything.

While your jars are sterilizing, it’s time to assemble your ingredients.

 

You’ll need:pick2

  • 2 cups of white vinegar
  • 2 cups of water (tap water is fine)
  • 2 tablespoons of salt (pickling or kosher — not iodized table salt)
  • 4 heads of fresh dill, or 4 tsp of dill seeds
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 8 to 10 cucumbers

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and salt, and heat over high. You want to bring this mixture to a boil. Meanwhile, start preparing your cukes. Cut a bit off of each end, if necessary, to ensure that the pickles will be about an inch shorter than your jar.

 

You can also cut them into halves or quarters if you want.

 

pick4Once your cucumbers are ready and your brine is boiling, it’s time to get ready to add everything to the jars. Remove the jars (carefully!) from the boiling water canner. Add a head of dill and a clove of garlic to each jar.

 

Then, start packing your cukes in. You want to jam them in pretty tightly. This keeps them from floating in the brine.pick6

 

As you can see, my nine cucumbers was only enough for three pints of pickles. That’s fine, it just means I’ll have some brine left over. Once you have them packed in, it’s time to pour the hot brine into the jars. Do this slowly, and use a jar funnel if that makes it easier for you. You want to fill the jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top.

 

pick7Canning:

  1. Use a flat spatula, butter knife, or bamboo skewer, and press the cukes together to try to release any air bubbles trapped in your jar. If you find that the level of the brine has fallen after doing this, top it up to keep your 1/2 inch of headspace.
  2. Wipe the rims of your jars with a clean, damp cloth, set the lids on, and tighten the rings. You don’t have to go crazy tightening it — just finger-tight is good enough. The seal doesn’t come from the rings at all, but from the lid itself being vacuum sealed on as the contents of the jars cool after processing.
  3. Place your jars into your boiling water canner, and process for ten minutes. Lift them out, carefully, and set them on a counter to cool. They’ll be quite warm for a few hours yet.

You’ll start to hear the lids make popping sounds. This means they’re sealing properly. After about an hour, all of your lids should have sealed. If you press on them and they’re solid, they’ve sealed right. If the lid still pops up and down, you don’t have a good seal. You can either re-process the jar in boiling water, or just put them in the fridge and eat them within a month. Properly sealed jars will keep for a year.

 

If you want to do away with the boiling water processing all together, simply add the cukes, dill, and garlic to any jar, pour boiling brine over it, cover, and let it cool down to room temperature. Then put your pickles in the fridge and eat within a month.

pick8As you can see, it’s not difficult. And believe me, the flavor is definitely worth the effort!

 

Pickling Resources:

While this is a basic recipe I found online a few years ago (and it’s great!) my favorite book about pickling and canning right now is Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More. It’s a beautiful book full of well-written recipes that definitely inspired me to try different things in my kitchen. Definitely worth a look.

As you can see from the post, I’m still using traditional canning lids. You may have heard that these types of lids are lined with BPA — this is a concern for many of us, myself included. I do have some reusable, BPA free lids on order, but they haven’t arrived yet. If you’re interested, here is a source that Julia from Snarky Vegan shared with me.

For more pickle-y goodness, please check out this post I wrote for Planet Green: 20 Pickle Recipes to Help You Preserve Summer’s Bounty.

More About Preserving the Harvest:

How To Make Quick and Easy Refrigerator Dilly Beans

How to Make Pickled Green Tomatoes

How to Make Easy Watermelon Rind Refrigerator Pickles

How to Make Chive Blossom Vinegar

How to Fertilize Tomato Plants, Organically

littletomatoesTomato plants grow with such speed and vigor that it’s easy to be tempted to keep feeding them, thinking that we need to add nutrients for all of that new growth our plant has put on. But the truth is that over-fertilizing tomato plants is just as bad as under-fertilizing them.

Over-fertilized tomatoes develop lots of green growth at the expense of fruit production. And as if that isn’t annoying enough, all of that tender green growth is like a dinner bell for nearby pests and a magnet for disease problems. Under-fertilization results in slow plant growth and poor fruit set, as well as blossom drop and fruit drop.

So, how do you strike the right balance between under- and over-fertilizing your tomatoes? It’s actually pretty simple, and something you only really have to worry about twice during the growing season. (Less work!)

Fertilize at Planting

At planting time, I like to add a bit of compost the the planting hole, as well as several crushed eggshells or bonemeal to fend off blossom end rot. If I have it on hand, I also like to add a bit of granulated organic fertilizer to the soil at this time.

Fertilize at Fruit Set

When you see your first tiny fruits start to form on your plants, it’s time to do the second fertilizer application of the season. This is when I break out the fish emulsion, and give each plant a good, thorough foliar feed, as well as the soil around each plant. This will provide valuable nutrients just when your plants need it most.

Supplemental Feeding

If you find that production seems to be dropping off, or your plants just look “tired,” there’s no harm in giving them another foliar feed with the fish emulsion, or with compost tea or manure tea. This can be done once per month during the growing season to keep the plants growing and producing well.

Good Soil = Good Tomatoes

As with any kind of gardening, success with growing tomatoes starts with the soil. You will want to grow your tomatoes in rich, fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Incorporating compost and composted manure at planting time, as well as mulching with organic mulches such as grass clippings or fall leaves will make a huge difference — and every year, the soil will just keep getting better.

It seems like it’s not enough; that it should be more complicated than that, doesn’t it? But that really is all there is to fertilizing your tomato plants. Most years, we don’t bother doing a supplemental feeding, and, to be honest, we’ve even forgotten to fertilize at fruit set a time or two and everything has turned out fine. One less thing to have to fuss over — always a good thing!

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.