Heirloom Gardener Blogs >

Gardening Guidance by GardenInMinutes

Popular Summer Heirloom Vegetables

Any gardener who has seen a few seasons of gardening can tell you that plant selection makes or breaks a successful season. Unless you have a greenhouse in which you can regulate the environment, you need to garden seasonally. This means growing plants appropriate to climate characteristics. Very generally, they are classified as cool-climate and warm-climate crops depending on the temperature in which they thrive. Within those classifications, plant types can be further differentiated by being a heirloom, hybrid, or GMO. For the purposes of our garden planning, we’ll discuss heirlooms.

Heirlooms are often cited as being more flavorful, nutritious, and locally adapted. They’re the result of natural open pollination of plants and the intentional selection, saving and growing of seeds from uniquely desirable plants over generations of growth. These traits coupled with warm-climate preferences make the following heirlooms perfect for a summer garden. Warm-climate crops do well in 50-90 degree weather and some can handle drought to a certain point, however a garden watering system, such as The Garden Grid™ mitigates this risk. It’s important to note: extremes and gardens don’t go well together. Just because a plant is drought and heat resistant doesn’t mean it will grow in 100 degree weather with no moisture or shade. Gardeners still have to protect them from the extremes – both freezing and scorching.

Even though spring has sprung, gardeners should already be considering their summertime raised gardens. Warm-climate heirlooms are a go-to for many gardeners, but new gardeners might not know which varietals are prime for their summer garden. If you are unsure, then read about the following heirloom vegetables that will thrive and produce even in hotter environments.

Beans

The magical fruit, beans are resilient and a great vegetable for a hot summer. Heirloom varietals such as the Purple Hull Pea (southern peas) and the Alabama Blackened Butter Bean (lima bean) will stand up to harsh conditions. The Purple Hull varietal will be ready for a harvest after 75 days, and are white with a small purple eye. The Alabama Blackened Butter Bean is a lima bean known for its resilience, and will produce through hot summers until the first frost kills it off. The beans may not look appetizing when cooked, but they are delicious and will grow through the dry season.

Lima-Bean-Alabama-Black-Butterbean-RareSeeds_1

Image via RareSeeds.com 

Okra

For gardeners interested in taller plants, look to Cow Horn and Early Dwarf Green okra varietals. Capable of growing 3 to 5 feet tall, these heirlooms are quick sprouting and resilient to the harsh summer temperatures. Okra is a versatile product in the kitchen, and will be ready for harvest 45-65 days after planting. The only thing gardeners need to remember when planting is their preference for warm soil - so plant 4 weeks or so after the last frost..

Okra-Fife-Creek-Cowhorn-rareseeds_1

Image via RareSeeds.com

Eggplant

These beautiful, versatile vegetables love the heat, and there are a few heirloom varietals to consider. The Listada de Gandia, the Black Beauty, and the Ping Tung Long varietals produce well in intense heat. The Listada de Gandia is a flavorful French-Italian varietal, and the Ping Tung Long is an asian eggplant known to be more narrow than others. The Black Beauty is one of the most well known heirlooms in the southern regions of America.

Listada De Gandia Eggplant - RareSeeds_1

Image via RareSeeds.com

Tomatoes

The tomato is a favorite for most gardeners. Varieties might differ in size and color, but any of them can look great in a garden; and there are quite a few heirloom varietals to choose from. Amateur gardeners may find this especially frustrating when deciding what tomato varietals to grow for what season. Warm-climate heirlooms such as the very popular Cherokee Purple and Prudens Purple can withstand the heat and high humidity, but no tomato enjoys drought. Tomatoes need humidity, but consistent watering can easily remedy the situation. These tomatoes are ready for harvest in about 65-80 days.

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes - Rareseeds

Image via RareSeeds.com 

Overall, there are thousands of heirloom varieties to choose from often many that developed ideally for your geographies mico-climate. To pick the best heirloom for your garden, understand the expected climate you’ll be growing in and select an heirloom that adapts well and produces characteristics that you’ll enjoy!

Raised Garden Beds: The Good, The Great, and The Awesome Benefits of Them

raised garden bed

Row gardening is what we think of when we imagine large farms; acres of land with endless rows of soil mounds. It’s an optimum strategy for large spaces and machines used to cultivate, plant, and harvest, but it’s not great for the average backyard. Backyard gardens come in many shapes and sizes — in-ground, small rows, hanging, wall, and raised. Each has advantages and disadvantages:

• In-ground gardens can be any size, but require a lot of work vis-à-vis clearing a space, loosening soil, and designing a layout.
• Rows look clean and neat, but row gardening uses your limited yard space inefficiently by necessitating walking rows. (more on this)
• Hanging and wall gardens have aesthetic appeal and save space, but are hindered by soil depth and load-bearing ability.
• Raised bed gardens however, solve each of these ‘woes’. They can meet your preference in size and height, are designed to maximize plant spacing efficiency, and have aesthetic appeal.

Some raised garden bed kits can be assembled in minutes without tools. For design appeal, varied plant root depth needs, and back relief — tiered garden beds offer an aesthetic and practical approach. Some raised garden kits also have a watering system. The point is, raised gardens appeal to the best of any home gardening interest for amateurs and experts alike.

Raised Garden Beds Are Aesthetic and Organizational

Raised garden beds are beautiful to look at. They separate your fruit and vegetable plants from everything else, creating clean lines of wood and clusters of plants pleasing to the eye. Because they are versatile, multiple beds can be set up in an area to create patterns and further diversify the sharp lines, cleanliness, and aesthetic element. One of the most important aspects, however, involves their organizational benefits.

Square foot gardening plant spacing, the process of planting by area as opposed to rows, goes hand-in-hand with a raised garden bed. Outfitting your raised garden with a grid, divided out into roughly square foot sized squares, gives a raised bed gardener the guide for spacing plants efficiently. Within each square foot, gardeners plant according to the plant’s spacing needs which are highlighted in square foot planting guide.

Raised Garden Beds Are Space Efficient

Raised garden beds lend themselves to easy organization, and space maximization. As previously mentioned, row gardening can be efficient for large scale areas, but not on a small scale. Square foot gardening in a raised garden bed can support more vegetables because of the spacing style — they’re all designed with a dimension of 4ft or less so the middle of the garden is always reachable. Using garden grids in raised beds allows gardeners to plant vegetables with different spacing requirements, successfully growing an abundant and diverse garden. Not to mention the benefits of being raised. Raised beds promote root growth through soil especially since they are filled with non-compacted soil and soil mixes.

Raised Garden Beds Provide Good Drainage and Loose Soil

When gardening in-ground, pressure from the surrounding earth, rain, and time will harden the soil. With compacted soil, it’s a carefully struck balance between too much and too little drainage. Raised garden beds are filled with ‘new’, nutrient rich, aerated soil. The fresh soil and open bottom of a raised bed provides quality moisture retention with an easy outlet for excess water.

Loose soil is important for root vitality. It can’t be too compact, lest the roots can’t continue their journey and become stubs. Gardeners that use in-ground gardens have to dig up the soil to ensure it stays loose. With raised garden beds, soil is poured in and will naturally retain a loose stature.

In Short:

Raised bed gardening, when compared to other options is ideal for the backyard or urban gardener. With the variations in height, size, proclivity for high yield in condensed space, and aesthetic value raised bed gardening should be on your mind for gardening success!

Looking Back at 2017 Garden Trends

Like anything else, horticulture sees its fair share of yearly trends. Some stick around, some are fun, and some are a little odd. It’s fun to look at trends over the years and how they differ. Whether it’s an aesthetic craze or popular growing technique, gardeners express their creativity through growing trends. These trends usually originate from newly revealed information, a meaningful cause, or from someone’s example. People gravitate towards originality and creativity, and gardens are perfect for showcasing these qualities.

Unique heirloom veggies, tiered garden beds, and organic pesticides are a few examples of trends that have survived their predecessors due to their benefits and results. As we look back on the popular trends of 2017, we have to wonder which ones will go the distance. You may be tempted to try every fresh gardening idea, and you can! They’re interesting and let you expand your gardening creativity. As long as you keep your garden irrigation on point, ensure the climate is right, and give your plants helpful nutrients to feed them, you should be able to experience any garden trend.

The following are a few practices that we’ve seen grow in popularity during 2017. If one sounds particularly fun or innovative that you haven’t tried yet, make 2018 the year you try it!

Heirloom Gardens

Gardens comprised of heirloom vegetables have grown in popularity; this is evident by scrolling through Instagram alone! Heirlooms are beautiful, nutrient-rich, flavorful plants that aren’t hybridized with other varietals. They have a common ancestor and developed through open pollination in specific climates which lead to their unique style. While their yield isn’t as frequent as hybrids, heirlooms are being rediscovered and loved for their rich flavor and local suiting. Heirloom seeds have interesting stories about their parentage and produce less-uniformly, so harvests are spread out. Because they take after their parent, gardeners plant heirlooms accustomed to their region which will yield the strongest results. Of the recent trends, this one has a strong chance of sticking around.

Heirloom Tomato Green

Living Wall

This trend is both aesthetic and growth beneficial. Wall gardens utilize non-traditional space, add unique color and texture, and look beautiful. Acting as living art that can spruce up any environment, wall gardens are a great way to grow things such as herbs and flowers. They utilize minimal space, soil, and water to create a unique take on traditional, horizontal gardens. This trend is, in a way, a part of the urban gardening trend that will be discussed later. Basically, living walls bring gardening to more urban areas that aren’t privy to the ground space typically needed for a garden.

Tiered Gardens

Aesthetic and easier on the back, tiered garden look beautiful because the tiers add an extra dimension. Like building a step garden, these are perfect for showcasing flowers and vined plants or growing tall and short plant on different tiers, simultaneously. The different planting heights can bring short plants such as lettuce up closer to you and keep tall plants such tomatoes or sunflowers at a reasonable height. They give practicality for ease of plant management and aesthetic appeal to a section of your yard.

Tiered Garden Kit

Growing with a Purpose

Pizza gardens, salsa gardens, cocktail gardens, and salad gardens — these are a few examples of gardening with a purpose. This trend is about creating a garden comprised of vegetables used together in one recipe. Most gardens are beautiful, but the vegetables don’t always work together in a meal. Growing with a purpose means the garden, when ready for harvest, can be used in one recipe. The result is a completely homegrown meal, snack, or drink that emphasizes the beauty and tastes of your work. Additionally, it provides an extra incentive to grow. For gardeners who need a goal other than nurturing life, they can create a garden that will be turned into a delicious meal for family and friends.

GardenInMinutes Salsa Garden Guide

Urban Gardening

As mentioned earlier with living walls, urban gardening is a trend quickly growing in popularity. Once common in the early and mid-1900’s, urban gardening is seeing a renaissance. Whether it’s a hanging planter on the windowsill, a small garden bed on a porch, a rooftop raised garden, or converted lot, urban living can support the beauty of a garden with a little creativity. It helps localize some of the urban area’s produce, reduces the transportation needs for food, and introduces plants and vegetables that may not be common to the area.

Enjoy The Trends and Start Your Own!

These are some of the trends that we’ve seen which we think will stick around and continue to grow (pun intended). Many gardening trends are regional due to climate and growing conditions. However, trends can start from anywhere, and if you have an idea, you should share it with fellow gardeners. Who knows, it may become a national trend!

Growing a 'Pizza Garden'

Although new gardeners may be happy with growing anything in their gardens, seasoned gardeners grow with a purpose. They want to put the vegetables they have raised to specific culinary use. Each vegetable could go into a separate meal like tomatoes in a sauce or carrots for a salad, but what if those home-grown veggies were utilized within one recipe? Welcome to the veggie pizza garden!

Pizza is loved by many in part because it can be built to anyone’s specifications. Basically, you can put anything you want on it, and fresh ingredients make a phenomenal pizza. If you want to enjoy the heavenly tastes of fresh garden vegetables, use them atop a pizza. To appropriately plan a veggie pizza garden, you’ll want to know:

• How to space
• When to grow
• What to grow

Gardeners can use many styles of gardening such as pots or row gardening, but the most efficient use of garden space comes from employing the square foot gardening plant spacing method.

Why Square Foot Gardening?

Square foot gardening saves space and water by eliminating the need for walking rows, in favor of planting in more condensed sections in your garden. Using a square foot style garden watering system will separate your garden into these planting squares which are used to organize your planting. Furthermore, it delivers water directly to where it’s needed so less goes to waste. Square foot gardens can be any size, but for the purpose of growing a veggie pizza garden, we will use a 4-by-4 model.

Square foot gardening style garden watering system

Photo by GardenInMinutes

Note: If the square foot gardening planting method is new to you, you can learn more about it in this square foot gardening 101 article.

The Veggie Pizza Garden

As mentioned earlier, pizza topping choices are figuratively endless. This garden plan will focus on the five core ingredients for a veggie pizza, and you, as the gardener, can add/replace vegetables as you see fit. Based on the growing needs of plants in a veggie pizza garden, fall and the early spring (after the final frost) will be the ideal times for warmer states. Late spring and summer will be too hot unless in northern colder states. Overall, the key is to grow these plants in an environment where temperatures won’t consistently drop below the mid 40’s and rise above the low 80’s.

What to Grow:

Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a primary pizza ingredient. Used as both a base sauce and topping, a fresh garden tomato can elevate your veggie pizza to new heights. Tomato plants are larger, so only one is permissible per square foot, and they can be harvested around 90 days. The good news is one plant produces multiple tomatoes, which you’ll need to create a sauce and topping slices

Onions: Onions, sliced and grilled, are a staple pizza ingredient. They add a light crunch to the toppings along with a juicy, sharp flavor. Nine bulbs can be planted per square foot and are ready to within 90 to 100 days.

Spinach: Spinach adds texture and some dark green color to pizza, making it look and taste delicious. Like onions, nine spinach plants can be planted per square foot, and they can be harvested in 75 days or so. Extra spinach can be used to create a side salad as well, and don’t forget to top it with some extra sliced tomatoes and onions!

Bell Peppers: Both green and red bell peppers are the “belle” of pizza toppings. They are colorful, crunchy, and are best served roasted to a small char on top. They are similar to tomatoes, with only one plant per square foot. They can be harvested within 60 to 90 days, and some fresh raw slices could accompany your side spinach salad or even top a slice. One caveat to bell peppers — leave at least one planting square between them and tomatoes. If planted in too close of a proximity, the pair create a great environment for the Colorado Beetle, which will give you problems.

Basil: An aromatic and beautiful herb, basil brings out the classic Italian flavor in sauce and as a topping. It can be planted two to a square foot and can be trimmed within 50 days of planting. Harvesting leaves from an herb nurtures further growth, and basil can be used in many other recipes in case you gain a surplus. For pizza sauce, cut the basil into small pieces, and for a topping, try enjoying the leaves whole.

Pizza Garden Planting Layout

Photo by GardenInMinutes

Obviously, you can’t grow cheese, and it’s fairly time-consuming to create your own flour. These things will have to be purchased from your local store, but the sauce and toppings all originate from your very own garden! If you have a 4-by-4 garden, these ingredients only take up five squares. It’s up to you what to do with the remaining 11. You can triple your pizza topping potential or you can add other favorite pizza ingredients like oregano or jalapenos. Regardless, now you have a veggie pizza garden plan to surprise family and friends!

Plant Your Fall Garden Now: Ideal Fall Heirlooms to Plant

Seasons control when certain plants can grow and thrive. As the season changes, so must a garden’s contents. Fall brings cooler temperatures, changing colors, and preparation for the winter. It may be the end of summer, but it’s the beginning of your fall vegetable garden.

Fall gardens produce rich, rustic vegetables. They are more resilient to fluctuating, cooler temperatures than summer vegetables which prefer hotter temperatures. However, it’s important gardeners know how to protect their plants from radical temperature changes. Seasonal vegetables grow well within their season’s temperature range, but temperatures are liable to slip out of those ranges. When it becomes too hot or cold, gardeners have to take additional measures to protect their plants.

The following are a few heirloom vegetable varietals perfect for a fall garden as well as some protective measures against unusually cold temperatures.

 zones-2015

Photo Courtesy of: Arbor Day Foundation

 

Vegetables per USDA Hardiness Zones

Vegetables are generally categorized by season, but there are also regional aspects to consider. The USDA Hardiness Zones identify differentiating areas throughout the U.S. by their annual low temperatures. Zones 8-11 are more temperate lower temperatures such as the southern and western coasts.

Zones 5-7 are central to northern regions of the U.S. where low annual temperatures frequently reach below freezing. Because fall gardens grow into the winter months when the lowest temperatures are reached, you want to pick vegetables appropriate to your Hardiness Zone.

Bloomsdale SpinachAlbino BeetsDragon Carrots, and Snowball Y Cauliflower are perfect for zones 5-7. They can withstand your more severe cold better than others and can produce a harvest within 50-70 days.

Purple Top TurnipsSummer SquashAtlantic Broccoli, and Red Mini-Bell Peppers will thrive in zones 8-11. While not as cold hardy as the aforementioned plants, they still do well with cooler weather. They are known for their fast germination and growth periods, and some gardeners may see a harvest within 60-80 days.

To produce healthy fall plants and a bountiful harvest, begin planting fall vegetables in August to early September. As stated earlier, summer doesn’t end until mid-September, but you want your garden to be fully-transitioned by then.

Protecting Your Fall Vegetables

Mother nature can be arbitrary and temperatures can fall lower than anticipated. During late fall specifically, the temperature will drop and be dangerous to your non-acclimated fall vegetables.

Temperatures under 50 degrees along with wind-chill have a low potential for damaging your garden. 40 degrees or lower with wind-chill flirts with higher potential for damage, and 32 degrees or lower will most likely damage your vegetables. Gardeners almost always need to insulate gardens when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.

A thick, protective layer of mulch around your plants will defend the soil and roots from cold seeping in as well as insulate the remaining warmth. The roots are the most important part to protect because future growth starts from there. Leaves and stems may wither, but warm soil protects the root ball from dying. Adding a garden watering system at soil level aides in this temperature management since you can maintain soil moisture with water that is warmer than the air. 

 Raised Garden Greenhouse Framework

To protect the leaves and stems as well during an erratic cold front, cover your garden with a cotton sheet or plastic tarp. While cotton won’t adversely affect your plants with direct touch, you may want to use supports and latticework to support it. Similarly plastic tarps are generally heavier, but may hold temperature better since they are less porous. Ensure you have a support structure in place to avoid adding unneeded weight on the already stressed plant.


Authors: Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan is co-founder at GardenInMinutes.com, where the family run company focuses on simplifying the process of starting a quality garden. Their tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and their pre-assembled Garden Grid™ watering system allows gardeners to start and grow a quality garden in minutes. In addition to unique gardening solutions, Bryan and the GardenInMinutes team provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Heirloom Varieties for Hot or Cold Climates

Gardeners can control the type of soil, seeds, watering schedule, and spacing within their gardens, but climate can be more difficult to regulate. Short of a greenhouse or indoor environment, home gardens are subjected to the seasons’ whims. Temperature is an influential gardening variable capable of nurturing or killing gardens depending on the plant selection. Plant varietals, like people, have preferences regarding their environment. Some enjoy cooler climates while others thrive in warmer temperatures.

Gardeners can find plants suitable to their region based on the season and the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The map identifies the lowest temperatures felt throughout the U.S. to narrow down what can and can’t be grown. After a gardener establishes their hardiness zone, they will have a clearer understanding of what temperature range the seasons are capable. Matching plants to their climate is not just advice, it’s necessary for the garden to thrive.

Organic and Heirloom

These terms are frequently used in marketing, produce descriptions, and seed sales, but the difference may not always be clear. Organic plants are grown under regulations prohibiting the use of sewage, genetically-fabricated materials, and synthetic fertilizers (among other standards depending upon the certifying body). Basically, organic plants are the product of organic materials and processes. Heirlooms are not defined by their growth, but by their heritage. They are open-pollinated seeds that reproduce bounty identical to the parent plant. In short, heirlooms come from one variety instead of a cross between two varieties. Which is “better” is a matter of opinion as they differ in taste, germination, season, bounty, and resiliency. In this article, heirloom varietals that perform better in different climates will be the major focus. Heirlooms are typically known for their taste, bright color, rich nutritional value, unique appearance, and the fact that they rely on small growers and gardeners for continued lineage. 

Different Potential for Different Climates

Every gardener is searching for the plants that work best for their region. Northern climates have shorter growing seasons, but also have very minimal risk of scorching their plants. Southern climates offer a longer growing season, but the heat can destroy crops and remove life-providing moisture from the environment. Gardeners who understand the risks can navigate them more easily and grow a more bountiful garden.

Tomatoes

Generally speaking, tomatoes are a warm-climate plant. They are known for withstanding heat and producing poorly in the cooler months. Tomatoes are mostly sown after the last frost has passed, giving the plant plenty of time to grow and produce multiple bounties before the autumn season ends. Heirloom varietals, such as the ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato, a sweet flavored and colorful fruit, will thrive in longer, hotter months. They will mature in 3 months and produce a hefty bounty through the heat’s help.

cherokee purple

However, there are tomatoes capable of growing in the cooler seasons. Varietals such as ‘Glacier’ and ‘Manitoba,’ for example, are heirlooms that prefer the cool to the usual heat. Glacier and Manitoba’s can be planted around an air temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and will germinate when the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees or higher. They are smaller, sweeter tomato plants that can bear fruit within 60 days of sprouting. For those gardeners in the northern U.S. hemisphere, ‘Glacier’ and ‘Manitoba’ tomatoes are the perfect start to a gardening season.

Glacier tomato 

Manitoba 

Eggplants

Eggplants generally prefer warmer temperatures. But, as evidenced by the different heirloom tomato varietals, there are eggplants that thrive in colder temperatures as well. For example, ‘Diamond’ grows well in the northern, shorter seasons and germinates easily. According to personal reviews from gardeners, ‘Diamond’ eggplants can survive temperatures under 50 degrees, which makes them perfect for regions with lower temperatures.

Diamond eggplant 

For gardeners who want a more traditional (e.g. warm weather) heirloom eggplant varietal, they can fill their garden with ‘Black Beauty’ eggplants. These dark purple eggplants are adapted to southern seasons, and can mature in as little as 74 days.

black beauty eggplant 

Beans

Fava bean plants break the typical bean mold due to their preference for cooler climates. Nearly all varietals are extremely hearty, requiring minimal water and able to weather frosts. They can grow up to 5 feet tall under the right conditions, such as temperatures under 70 degrees and moist soil. Plants that can tolerate cooler environments generally need to be planted after the last frost, but fava bean plants can be planted in the late autumn months. Pictured below is the ‘Masterpiece’ Fava bean.

Masterpiece fava bean 

Lima beans of nearly any varietal are perfect for gardeners in a warmer climate with longer growing seasons. Capable of growing in poor soil and dry conditions, they will mature in roughly 80 days. Lima beans — also known as butterbeans — are flat, green beans known for their resiliency. Pictured below is the ‘Jackson Wonder’ lima bean.

Jackson wonder lima bean

Gardening by Climate

Climate may be uncontrollable, but it’s also trackable. If a gardener is serious about growing strong heirlooms, some initial research is the key to success. Perusing the Farmer’s Almanac and checking your local hardiness zones will help narrow down plant options and season lengths. Although plants have general preferences, each plant varietal is different and may go against the usual growing guidelines. Technically, if a gardener wanted to grow tomatoes all year long, there are a variety of heirlooms that can be grown to correlate with the seasons (within reason). The result would be a tomato garden producing a wide variety of tomato types depending on the time of year.

Photos courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com.

Authors: Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan co-founded GardenInMinutes.com in 2013, a family-owned venture focused on making it easier to start a quality garden with their tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and the Garden Grid™- the only planting guide and garden irrigation system in one. In addition to unique gardening solutions, Bryan and the GardenInMinutes team provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages.