Gardening: Growing Lettuce

Lettuce has quickly become my favorite thing to grow in the garden. It’s easy, it’s practical, it’s beautiful, it’s delicious, and there’s something totally satisfying about going to the garden and just picking your own salad for dinner (especially when you remember the price tag at the store for that same amount of produce!). I’d say that, by far, we’ve gotten the most bang for our buck with our lettuce crops. We put it to use much more than any other crop we’ve planted so far, which saves us a lot on our produce bill at the store! (Gotta love that!) So I guess it’s easy to see why this is one of my favorite things to see popping up in the garden each year (and no… that is not my garden pictured below–I WISH!). 😀

Lettuce is mainly a cool weather crop–which I find interesting since I usually crave it most during the hot summer months when I want something light and refreshing to eat. But regardless, you want to plant it when your temperatures will be mild (generally between 45 to 75 degrees F, and most lettuce can even survive a light freeze). During the hot weather, lettuce tends to turn bitter and bolt (which means it sends up a flower stalk at the top, and basically it’s done growing). This happened to us this past summer, and the lettuce isn’t really salvageable at that point (unless you like eating bitter lettuce), so your best option is to just pull it up and replant when temperatures are cooler, or to plant in a location that receives more shade (particularly afternoon shade). You can also find lettuce varieties that are more resilient to heat and don’t bolt as quickly. {I’m thinking I’m definitely going to have to look into that this year!}

Planting: When planting lettuce, it’s fun to choose a variety. {Right now we’ve got about three different kinds growing, and the mix makes for a beautiful salad. I especially like the small amount of red romaine we’ve got included.} Prepare your soil by loosening the top 10 inches or so, and mix in some compost to the top layer.
You can plant lettuce by either broadcasting the seeds (which means you basically just sprinkle them all over your prepared garden soil area), or you can plant them in rows to a depth of about 1/4″ and spaced about 1″ apart. I like to plant in rows, but the seeds are so tiny that I don’t worry about how far apart they are spaced within that row. I just sprinkle them down the row and then, when they start growing, you can thin the plants out, if needed.

Tending: Lettuce does best when the soil is kept cool and moist. Water in the early mornings so that the leaves have time to dry during the day and you can avoid mildew and fungal problems that can come if the leaves are continually wet overnight.

Harvesting: One way to “thin” out your lettuce is to just start eating it! As the plants start growing and getting crowded together, just pick the outer leaves (new ones grow from the middle of the plant) and throw them into a salad and leave the rest to continue growing. There’s no need to let the whole plant grow to a certain point and then pull it out or cut it all together. Just harvesting the outer leaves allows for a continued growing process and you will enjoy your lettuce for a long, long time (or at least until the end of the growing season). Also note, that it’s often best to harvest in the mornings. This is especially true if your days get pretty warm as they move to the afternoons. The hotter temperatures will make the lettuce wilt in the afternoon hours and then it’s hard to get your lettuce to be crisp (even if you stick it in the fridge). However, if your temperatures are mild all day long, you can really harvest at any time during the day.

We’ve got a good amount of lettuce growing right now in our winter garden and it is doing pretty well (yes, that is lettuce from my garden pictured above). Granted… Houston’s “winter” isn’t exactly the same as the majority of the country. We don’t usually get to freezing temperatures until sometime in January/February, and even then, the periods of freeze are so short (generally only a few overnight hours) that crops can often make it through unharmed. {You hate me now, but trust me… you’ll be the one with the last laugh when I’m suffering through the miserable, humid, Houston summer heat with withered vegetables! :)}
We lost a fair amount of the crop over the Christmas holidays when we were on a 3-week vacation right during the time the lettuce was sprouting up and needing to be thinned… so we came home to a fairly tangled mess of mixed up and strangled lettuce leaves (not to mention the weeds!), but I was just impressed any survived at all! 🙂 We were able to revive quite a bit of it by getting rid of the bad parts and giving the rest room to thrive and grow.
So anyway, we’ve been enjoying having a healthy salad dinner at least one or two times a week without having to buy any lettuce at the grocery store! It. is. SO. cool! I absolutely love it. If you’ve never planted lettuce, you have seriously GOT to try this. 😀 You will not regret that you did!
(And P.S. If you don’t have any garden space at your home, lettuce would do awesome in a small or decorative pot as well!)
Happy Gardening!

Advertisements

Gardening: It’s Planting Time Again!

Again? Really? Well, maybe not for most of you. But we’re trying to get a late Summer/early Fall batch of crops going. Our Spring/Summer garden did pretty well this year– probably one of the best gardens we’ve had so far in terms of overall production– but this blasted heat and crazy drought we’re experiencing killed most of the plants off before I was done enjoying them. So we’re doing a small Round 2 before it’s time for the Fall/Winter garden. 🙂 We’re planting some more cucumbers, giving a different variety of carrots a try (our first attempt was not very successful at all), and the part I’m most excited about is that we are going to try growing our own Halloween PUMPKIN this year! 😀

The thought had never occurred to me, but Hubby brought up the idea and we are so excited to see if it works! How fun would it be to carve a jack o’ lantern from a pumpkin we grew?!
I ordered some seeds again (non-GMO… in case I take the time  to learn this time how to save the seeds) and last night we went ahead and planted. Woohoo! I’m so excited to see how they do. I’ve been working our garden soil for the past couple of days to get it ready for planting again… just tilling it up, adding some compost and fertilizer, and watering it… so hopefully it will be home to some great crops for our family. I’m also going to try starting tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli from seeds to be able to plant as transplants in a few weeks. We’ll see how that goes. I’ve never tried that before. 🙂
How are your gardens doing? If you haven’t planted one yet, it’s not too late! Not sure where to start? Click HERE for all our related posts on gardening for some help on your way. Just be sure to plant something appropriate to the season you’re in and enjoy experimenting!
Good Luck and Best Wishes!

Garden Inspiration

Just wanted to pop in real fast to say “hi!” and give y’all a little gardening inspiration. We are starting to enjoy the fruits of our labor here at our home, and I gotta say… it is SO satisfying! I know some parts of the country are just now finally ready to start planting, so if it’s been on your mind… DO IT! I ordered my seeds online this year (well, most of them anyway) because I wanted to be sure of the quality I was getting. And the seeds I got were/are heirloom seeds– which means, 1) they haven’t been scientifically modified (non-GMO), and 2) I can save the seeds at the end of the season and plant them next year… assuming I can learn how to save seeds between now and the end of the season… which I doubt I will, but at least the option is there, right? 🙂
Anyway, here’s some fun pics of the family garden and the produce we’re beginning to see…

{Above: Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, and Banana Peppers. See all the banana peppers on the plants at the left? They’re so good on pizza!}
{Above are two raised beds of watermelon (on the ends) and one snow peas (in the middle).}
{Above: This is what happens when you plant watermelon and cucumbers in the same bed. Holy Take Over! They have completely filled their box, spilled over into the yard, and have even started to encroach into the beans box next to them (at the bottom left). We can no longer mow in this area because we don’t want to damage any of the plants. Next year we will definitely have to plan this better!}
{Above: These are some of the purple beans we grew this year. They are SO COOL! They’re purple on the outside, green on the inside, and if you cook them, the whole thing turns green. Magic Beans! 😀 And they taste exactly the same as regular ol’ green beans… just with a fun color for the garden.}
{Above: Some of our tomatoes growing. Our tomato plants have gone crazy and are chest high on my 6’5″ hubby! Thank you Miracle Grow! :)}
{Above: Here’s a close up of one of our smaller watermelon boxes. Can you see the four little watermelons growing??}
{Above: And here’s our biggest watermelon so far. It’s hard to tell from the picture (because the leaves are so dang HUGE), but this watermelon is actually about 12 inches long. We are SO EXCITED to have watermelon growing!!!}
{And here’s some of the produce we’ve gotten. This is by far the best year for our garden! We are having a blast! Stay tuned for a great recipe for refrigerator pickles to use up all those cucumbers!}

HAPPY GARDENING!

Feature Friday: A “Safer” Garden

Happy Friday everyone! Weekend here we come! Woohoo!

Shop Now! Safer®Brand Organic GardeningBut first, I want to give a quick shout out to a new sponsor: Safer! This company has some awesome products for the garden (and lawn, and houseplants,etc)… and just like you would guess from the name, they’re all organic and natural! I don’t know about you, but I always figure that if I’m going to be putting this much time, money, and effort into my garden, I really want to make every effort to make sure I’m using products that are going to be good and healthy for me and my family. I desperately try to avoid putting any chemicals on my crops. I fight pesky bugs with Diatomaceous Earth (which they sell, although not food grade… just for plants and animals); I use crushed eggshells to keep the little caterpillars off my lettuce (but they’ve got a great caterpillar killer); and I always try now to make sure I’m using quality soils and fertilizers (which obviously they have as well) that are going to help my garden blossom and bloom so we are left with only delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Shop Now! Safer®Brand Organic Gardening

So if you are concerned at all with the quality and care of your garden, you have GOT to check these guys out. And not only will you get 10% off your online order(!!), but you can also get FREE SHIPPING on orders over $45! Sweet! I LOVE free shipping because then I’m better off than if I had driven to a local store! I didn’t have to drive anywhere! 😀

You can find them by clicking on the ad above, or there is a permanent ad in the sidebar to the right. So go check them out for all your garden, lawn, houseplant, and even pesky bug problem needs and enjoy your Safer garden!

Gardening: So Mulch To Talk About!

Well, we’re getting to the end of our gardening topics for the time being (although I’m sure I’ll hit on it again as the Fall planting season approaches). But before we bid adieu to the subject, there’s one last thing I want to talk about and that is mulch. What is it? And what do you do with it?

Very good questions! I’m glad you asked! 😀

Mulch is simply “stuff” put over the soil/ground to act as a covering. Its main purposes are to keep the ground more evenly moist, keep the weeds at bay, and keep the soil cool in the summer and insulated during the winter (regulating soil temperature). Not to mention it can help the garden look more uniform and attractive as well. Mulch is the extra ‘little something’ that many people are missing from their gardens to give them that great gardening experience they are looking for. It really does make a difference! (This is the first year I’ve tried mulching and my weeding has been so much less of a hassle and I’m noticing good benefits all around!)

Most people tend to use organic mulch in their gardens for two reasons: 1) because it can be basically free, and 2) because as it breaks down, it also improves the soil. Organic Mulch is stuff like pine needles, leaves, newspaper, compost, bark (shredded or chipped), dried grass clippings, etc. (Inorganic mulch would be things like black plastic covering and stone or gravel.)

When applying mulch to your garden, add the mulch in between your rows of crops or around any hills. You can mulch right up to about a few inches away from your plants. And when the crop season is over, simply work the mulch into your soil (assuming it’s organic mulch) and allow it to enhance the soil to benefit the next season’s crops. It should be noted that some mulches can alter the pH level of the soil… specifically mulches comprised of pine needles and bark will likely adjust the soil’s pH balance toward acidic and should therefor only be used around crops that favor those soil conditions, such as strawberries, blueberries, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans and onions.

And for one last shout out for mulch, here is an awesome mulching tip I learned from my gardening lecture by the now famous master gardener (at least she’s starting to feel that way!). To apply a super awesome, weed-ridding mulch,

  • First, weed your garden bed (you do not want to put this on top of green/live weeds… and don’t pick your weeds and leave them in the garden bed either! Toss them in the trash for pete’s sake!)
  • Next, sprinkle powdered laundry detergent (like Tide) between your rows of plants. (I believe she said this was a pest repellent.)
  • Then lay down 10 sheets of wet thick newspaper on top of the detergent (leave a few inches between the newspaper and your growing plants).
  • Finally, throw some dried up leaves on top of the newspaper and you will have a weed free garden with some great growing crops.

Well, that about wraps it up! Hopefully we’ve been able to cover enough in the gardening arena for the time being to get us all well on our way to some great gardens! And remember what I said at the beginning of all this gardening talk… gardening takes time. Don’t expect a super awesome garden on your first go (and count yourself super lucky if you do!!). You will likely need to learn some tips and tricks that are specific to you and your piece of land as you go. So each gardening season should get better and better as you keep at it.

Good luck and I hope you are able to start enjoying some delicious, home grown produce very soon!! 🙂

Gardening: Top Secret Fertilizer Formula!

Okay, okay, there’s nothing ‘top secret’ about this formula and I won’t have to kill you if I tell you. But it is a super cool recipe for homemade fertilizer that was shared with me by a master gardener when I went to her gardening lecture.

Homemade Garden Fertilizer

What You’ll Need:

  • A large 20-gallon trash can (or something similar)
  • Super Thrive (you can find it at Lowe’s or Home Depot or other gardening centers)
  • Hasta Gro (you can try Lowe’s, etc but you may need to look at a local nursery or online for this)
  • Alfalfa Pellets (you can find these at a feed store… they’re rabbit food)
  • Epsom Salts
  • Fish Emulsion (she said you can also find this at Lowe’s or the like, but you’ll probably need to ask someone for help finding it)
  • Water
  • A watering can
  • And gardening gloves

What To Do:

  1. Pour 20 drops Super Thrive, 1 cup Hasta Gro, 2-3 cups alfalfa pellets, 2-3 cups epsom salts, and 1 cup fish emulsion into the bottom of your trash can. Fill the trash can 7/8 full with water (basically to the top, but if you fill it all the way to the top it will spill over when you stir). Stir it all together. (Helpful Hint: It may help to fill the trash can up only half way first and stir together until well combined, then fill the trash can the rest of the way and just stir lightly to mix.)
  2. Water your garden with this once every two weeks. Use approximately one pint per plant.
  3. Helpful Hint: Be sure to use gloves when working with this because if it gets on your hands they will STINK! And on the stinky note… your garden will apparently stink for about half a day each time you use this, but the smell will fade off and you will end up with beautiful vegetables as a result.

Don’t you feel like you’re part of a super secret gardening club now or something? I sure did when she passed this on to me! It’s like I have a secret gardening weapon that gives me an edge over the other simpletons of the gardening world. Bwahahaha! (That’s my evil laugh, btw.) 😀 Just Kidding. It’s something I hope EVERYONE can use and benefit from so we can ALL have awesome gardens!

Well, as always… Happy Gardening!!

Gardening: Fertilizers and Fertilizing

We talked last week about getting your soil into good physical shape, and now we need to make it nutritionally healthy as well. Fertilizer is a major contributor to the health of your soil. In fact, wikipedia says that applying fertilizer is the most effective way to increase crop production and improve the quality of food. This is because even though you are technically adding nutrients to the soil, you are, in actuality, feeding your plants which absorb their nutrients through the soil. So, healthy soil= healthy plants= delicious and nutritious meals.

Fertilizer is generally made up of three main components: nitrogen, phospohorus, and potassium. When you see numbers on a bag of fertilizer separated by hyphens (such as 5-10-5) they are referencing these three components (in that specific order) and the percentage or amount of that nutrient that is in the bag. Other components of fertilizers generally include calcium, sulfur, and magnesium as well as other trace minerals.
Here is a great article to read on understanding fertilizers better: How To Make Sense of a Fertilizer Label.

Before you start fertilizing your garden, it is a good idea to have your soil tested (especially if you are using soil that was not brought in, but is straight from your ground). Different plants do better with different nutrients and if you add the wrong kinds of nutrients, or too much of something already in the soil, you could be throwing away money, or worse, killing your crops. You get your soil tested at your local county extension (most will allow you to mail in a sample) and it generally costs a fee, but again, it could save you money and wasted effort in the long run.

The way you fertilize will depend upon the type of soil you have.  According to the Texas Home Vegetable Gardening Guide, if you have heavy clay soils you can fertilize quite heavily at planting time and the soil will safely absorb and store the fertilizer. However, if you have thin sandy soil (soil which generally needs the most nutrients), you can only apply light amounts at a time or else you risk burning your plants. So you would want to fertilize more regularly but in light doses. (Contact your county extension for recommendations on how often based upon your specific soil.) Also note that if you purchased soil for your garden from the store, it may have already come with fertilizer in it. Check the soil bags for information so you don’t over-fertilize.

Generally you add fertilizers after your seeds have sprouted and are a little more sturdy (about 3 weeks in or so). However, before you plant your garden, you can apply a preplant fertilizer (such as a 5-10-10 for sandy soil, or a 10-20-10 for clay) at the rate of about 1-2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden a few days in advance. Mix the fertilizer into the soil well to distribute the nutrients. After a few days, go ahead and plant! Woohoo! You’re on your way to an amazing garden!! 😀

For some other great articles on understanding fertilizers better, try these:

Good luck and Happy Gardening!