• Lori Adams says it’s time to start planning for garlic in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 3 of the Wednesday, July 25, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

IT’S TIME TO START PLANNING FOR GARLIC

Garlic is the most rewarding thing I’ve grown yet in my garden.  It is amazingly delicious, easy to plant and does so well here in Sitka.

Even though it’s too early to plant garlic right now, the stores are starting to sell it and the catalogs are arriving in the mail. It’s good to buy now because garlic is a hot seller and everyone is usually sold out by October when you need it. Do not buy garlic from the grocery store to plant even though it is cheaper. It won’t do as well as stock bought from a nursery. In fact, many farmers spray the garlic with something to keep it from sprouting during storage.

Our local garden stores sell garlic and Penny Brown at Garden Ventures has been keeping track of the local gardener’s favorite varieties so be sure to talk to her. All garlic varieties fall under two basic categories — hard neck and soft neck.

Soft neck plants have soft stalks at harvest time that can be braided together. The cloves run on the smaller, milder side but have a long shelf life. Most of the garlic you see on the grocery store shelves is soft neck.

Hard neck plants have very rigid stalks.  The cloves run on the larger, more flavorful side but do not have a long shelf life. Hard neck garlic plants send a flower stalk out of the top of the plant in July that needs to be cut off so that all of the energy goes into producing large cloves. This flower stalk is called a “scape” and it’s not only edible, it’s delicious. Just eat it raw or chop it up and throw it into your stir fry.

All of the information I’ve gathered says that hard neck garlic is the best choice for Sitka.

The best time to plant garlic is in the fall. Some stores sell it in time for a spring planting and it works, but your garlic won’t reach its full potential. Preparation for the garlic bed should take place this September.

Remove all the existing plants in the bed, and till or loosen up the soil with a trowel.  Amend with fertilizer (or seaweed and compost), lime (or seashell sand) and bonemeal (or starfish). Be sure the bed has good drainage — if the garlic sits in a puddle all winter it will rot. Planting should take place mid-October.  Separate all the cloves of your garlic, being sure NOT to remove the individual papery covering over each clove. If the covering is accidentally removed plant the clove anyways.

Plant each clove about 2 inches deep and about 9 inches apart and then mulch the entire bed with a thick layer of seaweed to protect it from the winter weather. Mark your bed clearly so you remember where they are planted next year.

Next spring, green blades will start to appear that look like saw grass. Each blade indicates one clove. Fertilize or mulch with seaweed or compost when all the garlic has emerged. Harvest the scapes in July while they are tender before the flower develops.

During July the blades will start to turn brown from the bottom up.  Although garlic is edible at any stage, usually by early August half of the blades have turned brown and it is time to harvest. If you harvest too early it won’t store well and if you harvest too late the cloves will separate from the stalk and the flavor diminishes slightly.  Use a trowel to harvest instead of pulling the stalk to ensure that the garlic stays intact.  For storage just wash off the dirt, cut off the stalk to about an inch and let the garlic dry completely using a fan.

Save your largest cloves to plant for next season, eat the rest of the large cloves and save any tiny or misshapen cloves to plant an inch or two apart in a separate bed to use in the spring as “garlic greens.”  Garlic greens look like green onions but taste like garlic.  If you save and replant your own stock each year the garlic plants will get more adapted to our climate and will get better and better.

Garlic is so delicious, you just HAVE to try it.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

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• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing fennel in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, July 18, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING FENNEL

I have to admit that up until about two years ago I didn’t even know what fennel was.  Florence Welsh recommended that I grow it because it does so well here in Sitka and is truly delicious. I am so glad I gave it a try.

Fennel has a round, slightly oval-shaped bulb that grows above the ground and looks sort of like a fat, short celery, while the tops look a lot like dill. If you eat fennel raw it tastes strongly of anise (licorice), but when cooked the flavor changes to this amazing mellow flavor I can’t even describe.

In preparation for growing fennel I like to amend the bed with seaweed in the fall and again in the spring. If the spring seaweed has a sprinkling of herring roe on it, it’s fine because fennel is a fairly heavy feeder. I start my seeds indoors mid-March and transplant them outside mid-April.

When transplanting the floppy, fragile starts, be sure to make a dish-shaped depression in the soil and then dig a hole in the center of the depression. Bury the starts deep enough in the hole to ensure that they are firmly supported with dirt and plant them with about 10-12 inch spacing. After they recover from transplant shock and begin to grow they will straighten out and become more stout.

It is a really good idea to mulch around each start with seaweed to keep the weeds down, feed the starts and retain moisture.  Cover the starts with row cover and for best results use hoop supports that will hold the cover up 2-3 feet off the ground.  Fennel has beautiful bushy foliage that can get quite tall and if the cover is too low it will break the foliage and make the plants very unattractive.

Fennel is ready to eat anytime you want to, but it is best to wait until it has reached maturity for maximum size. You’ve probably noticed the fennel in the grocery store produce aisle … the large, round, plump bulbs are white and the stems of the foliage are stout. My fennel never looks like that. The bulbs are smaller, more flat — almost disc-shaped — and greener in color.  The foliage and stems are more dainty and tender.

Sometimes a few plants will “bolt” and just send up a series of branches getting really tall. They are edible, but don’t amount to much. Adequate spacing usually minimizes bolting.

Because fennel matures so early you can successfully raise two plantings. You probably can plan to be able to start your first harvest mid to late July. If you take a sharp knife and cut the bulb loose leaving the root in the ground it is possible that the root will sprout up baby fennel for a second harvest.

But it is a more sure thing to start some more fennel seeds indoors around June 1, pull mature plants out of the ground root and all, amend the empty spot with compost and transplant new starts in the same spot. If you don’t have room indoors for starting more seeds just pop a new seed into the empty spots as you harvest mature plants.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

• Lori Adams discusses weeding and feeding in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, July 11, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

WEED AND FEED

I consider July 15 to be the middle of the gardening season. By this time a large portion of the nutrients you added to your beds in the spring have either been used up or washed away by the rain, and the weeds are threatening to take over the garden. Weeds rob what little nutrients are left in your soil, block sunlight and harbor mold and mildew. It can really make a difference in the health and harvest of your garden if you invest some time in weeding and amending the soil at this time.

If you tilled your garden this spring like I did, and did not mulch with seaweed, you were probably amazed at the carpet of weeds that sprouted up. It is very important to take the time to sit down and pull every single one of them before they produce seeds. If you did till and mulch with seaweed, you probably saw a pronounced decrease in the amount of weeds in your garden.

Most weeds really aren’t a problem if you are diligent to pull them before they produce seed and are sure to get all the roots because once they are pulled they are gone forever. The only two weeds I have had real trouble with are horsetail and Japanese knotweed. These two weeds have invasive root systems that are just about impossible to eradicate. If you break them off, the broken end just grows multiple sprouts. A small piece laying on the ground can even take root.

Someone once told me that the best defense is a good offense … that these weeds like acidic, poor soil, so the first step is to add lime to the soil and make it as nutritious as possible. It helped, but was not a complete solution. I noticed that where I till they are drastically reduced. I think it is because the roots get chopped up into bits, the bits sprout, I pull on the sprouts and the entire bits come up.

The places were I can’t till or really work it over with a trowel (like the asparagus bed) have become infested with horsetail. This year I mulched the asparagus bed heavily with beach seaweed/leaf mulch and I noticed that the horsetail roots are starting to spread through the loose mulch. When I pulled on them I was able to pull up long root sections. In fact, the other weeds that were growing in the beach mulch pulled up easily. I plan on gathering lots of beach mulch this fall.

If you have a traditional bottomless box bed that has a lot of horsetail in it, it is probably coming up from the ground below.  You can’t till in the box so the only way to get rid of it is to completely empty the bed, lay two layers of landscaping cloth in the bottom and up around the OUTSIDE of the box a few inches and staple it to the sides of the box. Then sift the dirt to remove every scrap of root, and start over. If anyone reading this has a magic bullet for these weeds please let me know.

To add nutrients to your beds either fertilize with commercial fertilizer, spread cured compost an inch thick over every bed or mulch with seaweed. Even with this awful weather we’ve been having I think you will see a definite difference in the health of your garden if you weed and feed.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing Kohlrabi in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Tuesday, July 3, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING KOHLRABI

Many people have never even heard of Kohlrabi, but I think it is one of my favorite garden vegetables. Kohlrabi is from the brassica family. It is a round bulb like a turnip but it grows just above the soil level and has leaves that grow out from the bulb in many different places, not just the top.  There are two different colors, green and purple.

Although Kohlrabi is a bulb it is a heavy feeder. Preparation of the bed for Kohlrabi should begin in the fall with a heavy amendment of nitrogen. I like to use salmon and seaweed and seashell sand, and then cover the bed with black plastic for the winter to prevent the leeching of nutrients.

In the spring it wouldn’t hurt to also till in some herring roe on kelp. Just be sure that the roe has time to break down a little before it’s time to plant so you don’t burn your plants. Seeds can be planted directly out in prepared beds mid-April, but I recommend starting them indoors mid-March and then transplanting them outdoors mid-April.

In a raised bed make a dish-shaped depression and then dig a hole in the center of it for the transplant. Bury the transplant up to its first set of true leaves using 6-inch spacing between plants. The depression will function as a catch basin for water to prevent the plant from drying out.

Brassicas require steady moisture, so it’s not a bad idea to mulch around all the plants with seaweed. Just be sure the plants aren’t buried and have minimum contact with the seaweed. Mulching with seaweed really helps retain moisture, keeps the weeds down and also feeds the plants. If you have a wet, moldy garden without raised beds you may want to skip this step.

As with all brassicas, it is very important to cover Kohlrabi with floating row cover and to leave it on until July 15 or harvest time, whichever comes first. Row cover will protect the plants from frost and wind and rain damage, but more importantly it will keep out the root maggot fly – the mortal enemy of any plant in the brassica family.

To harvest Kohlrabi just pull up the bulb and use a sharp knife to cut off the tough root and peel away the skin and leaves. Around the root area you will find that the bulb is tough and the skin is thick, but as you work up to the top the bulb gets more tender and the skin gets thinner. At the very top you hardly have to peel away any skin at all.

I always eat my Kholrabi raw, but I read that it is also delicious cooked.  It tastes a lot like the center of a broccoli stem. It’s less watery and more dense and sweet than a turnip. The leaves are also edible and can be used like kale.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

• Lori Adams discusses composting in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, June 27, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

COMPOSTING

Sitka has poor soil. Any plant waste thrown into our garbage cans travels by barge and truck to Eastern Washington. Bagged soil is expensive and travels by truck and barge to get here. Garden waste can be turned into soil. COMPOSTING IS IMPORTANT!

Concentrated fertilizers provide plants with basic nutrients and are potent enough that they only need to be applied once or twice a year. Compost feeds plants with a gentler mixture of basic nutrients and a multitude of micronutrients, but must be applied about once a month to adequately feed your plants. Many people use a combination of the two.

“Compost” is defined as “a mixture of decaying organic material used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.” Basically it’s the process of throwing excess plants and plant parts into a pile to rot down and turn into soil. This process can take about a year, but if you educate yourself and compost with a plan there are ways to speed up the process.

Plant parts fall into two main categories — Carbon/Brown and Nitrogen/Green. Composting experts suggest using 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.

  • EXAMPLES OF CARBON MATERIALS: untreated sawdust, straw, leaves, shredded newspaper, corn stalks and cobs, needles and cones, wood ashes (be sure the ashes are cold!)
  • EXAMPLES OF NITROGEN MATERIALS: manure, seaweed, chemical-free grass clippings, coffee grounds, food waste, spent brewer’s grain, fish waste
  • EXAMPLES OF MATERIALS NOT TO USE: cooking oil, soap, cat or dog poop, walnuts, maple leaves, colored paper, weed seed heads or roots, diseased plants
  • LOCATION: anywhere in the sun where it’s safe from rats, dogs and bears

There are many styles of composting bins you can purchased, but I think the ideal setup would be three bins side by side, no larger than 4 feet by 4 feet, made from pallets with see-through roofing to keep out the rain. The bottom would be just dirt to allow free movement of worms and bacteria and the fronts would be open.

In Bin No. 1 accumulate plant material. At some point, spend a day gathering bulk materials and layer them with your plant material in Bin No. 2. (Any new material that accumulates from now on is held in Bin No. 1.)  After a week use a pitch fork to “flip” the pile into Bin No. 3. Flipping gets oxygen throughout the whole pile better than stirring does which will really speed up the decomposition process. You should now notice quite a bit of heat coming from the pile and it should not stink.

Flip the pile once a week back and forth between Bins No. 2 and No. 3 for about two months.  By then it should resemble dirt. Sift it for use and throw all the chunks into Bin No. 1.

Remember that compost is not magical … whatever you put into your pile is what you will get out of it as far as nutrition is concerned. Be sure to adjust your pH level by adding some lime or seashell sand to it before you use it.

If you want to learn more about composting, I highly suggest you read these two books — “Let It Rot,” by Stu Campbell, and “The Complete Compost Gardening Guide,” by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin.

Once your compost is ready you can spread it about 1 inch thick around your plants and watch them grow!!

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

 

• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing leeks in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 5 of the Wednesday, June 20, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING LEEKS

Last year I had some gardening friends recommend that I try growing leeks.  I have to admit that I was not really familiar with leeks and had never thought about growing them.  I had been wanting to grow nice onions and hadn’t found anyone that had any real success with them, so I thought I would give the leeks a try.  I am so glad I did!  They are really hardy plants that work really well as onions.

I start my leeks from seeds in the sunroom on Feb. 15. The seeds can be planted very close together, about a half-inch apart. After germination I feed them once a week with a diluted liquid fertilizer. To prep the bed for them I like to amend the soil with plenty of food and organic material. My favorite natural amendments are starfish, compost, seaweed and seashell sand.

On April 15, when the seedlings are about 9 inches high, it’s time to transplant them outside. To transplant, I just take the block of soil and tightly packed seedlings out of the pot, separate the seedlings, trim the roots to 2 inches and plant them about 6 inches deep with about 9-12 inch spacing.  The green blades of fully grown leeks can be a little coarse and the white root are quite tender, so if you plant the seedlings deep you can force the leeks to have long, white, blanched roots.  As the leeks get bigger you can “hill” up the dirt around them to make the roots even longer.

Elliot Coleman, the leading expert in cool weather vegetable gardening, from Maine, recommends dropping the seedling into a 9-inch deep hole but not covering the plant with dirt. He says that over time the dirt will settle in on its own. Elliot Coleman has written several outstanding books that contain a lot of very useful information which Sitka gardeners can use. But as you read them, just keep in mind that although Maine is cold and has a maritime climate it is at the same latitude as Eugene, Ore. …. a huge difference in winter daylight.

Leeks can be harvested at any time, but they don’t reach full maturity until the fall.  As I mentioned earlier they are extremely hardy so they can be left out in the garden well after the first frost.

There is one more thing I would like to point out. I have been planting my leeks in beds that I have not been covering with row cover. This spring I planted a few of my leek seedlings in a friend’s garden as a favor while she was out of town. Her beds are covered with row cover.  When I went over to her house to check on things a few weeks ago I was amazed to see how much bigger her leeks were than mine … ABOUT 10 TIMES BIGGER!  I will not make the mistake of keeping them uncovered next year.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/

• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about growing cauliflower in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 6 of the Wednesday, June 13, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)

GARDENING IN SITKA

By Lori Adams

EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING CAULIFLOWER

Cauliflower is from the brassica family and all brassicas do really well here in Southeast Alaska. To prep your bed for cauliflower it should be amended with a fair amount of nitrogen as cauliflower is a heavy feeder. I like to prep my bed the previous fall with seaweed, seashell sand and salmon carcasses that are spaced about a foot apart. The next spring I start the seeds indoors around March 15.

All of the varieties I tried did well here, and the funny thing was that most of them matured at about the same time regardless of how many days the packets said were necessary. The only plants that matured later where the ones that were accidentally planted in partial shade. I think it might be a good idea to grow some in the sun and some in the shade on purpose to spread the harvest season out a bit.

I transplant the starts on April 15 while the starts are young and vigorous. If brassica starts get too old they will be stunted and not worth planting. The roots reach the boundaries of the 4-inch pot and the plant decides that its all the space it’s going to get so it stops growing.

When I transplant cauliflower starts I make a dish shaped depression in the soil and then dig a hole in the middle of it deep enough to bury the start up to its first true leaves. The depression acts as a catch basin for water to keep the starts from drying out. You would think that nothing would dry out with our weather, but a good raised bed that is properly amended with lots of sand can dry out in just one day of nice weather. I find it is also helpful to mulch the bed with a 4-inch layer of seaweed to ensure steady, adequate moisture. Just be sure the seaweed does not touch the plants so there is no chance of it rotting the tender starts.

Cauliflower needs to have lots of room to grow big beautiful heads so I like to space them at least 18 inches to 2 feet apart. When the starts are small it is tempting to crowd them close together to get more plants in the bed, but it is never worth it. If cauliflower plants are too close together they will produce little tiny heads, so try to imagine full-sized plants when you set them out.  I cover all my brassica beds with floating row cover and leave it on until July 15 to warm up the beds and protect the plants from the root maggot fly.

Many books will tell you that as cauliflower heads develop you need to “bleach” or “blanch” the heads by tying some leaves together over the top to protect them from the sun. This does not seem to be necessary here in Sitka. In fact, the year I tried it the slugs seemed very happy to have this great hiding area and ate my plants up. Sometimes the heads do turn slightly purple from the sun but it has no effect on their flavor.

It’s hard to know when to harvest cauliflower because it looks so beautiful and the heads just keep getting bigger and bigger, but if it goes past its prime the flowerets start to separate. This is called “ricing.” Ricing does not affect the flavor either, but for best results try to harvest cauliflower right before this happens. Once cauliflower is harvested the plant is finished and will not produce any more.

It’s a good idea to start some more seeds in June so that at harvest time you can pull the old plant, amend the spot with some compost and then pop a new start in for a second harvest later in the fall.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241

http://downtoearthupick.blogspot.com/