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Archives for September 24, 2017

Key tips for fall planting and gardening

This content is sponsored by McCrea Heating and Air Conditioning 

Garden hobbyists who restrict their vegetable planting to spring are missing another prime opportunity for delicious home-grown produce. Early fall is also a great time to start many types of vegetables and the fall growing season offers some advantages.

Perks of fall gardening include fewer insects and diseases to battle, less watering to be done and much less sweat, according to information from

In contrast to summer vegetables like tomatoes and zucchini, fall crops thrive in cold weather and many taste sweeter because of the production of sugars that help prevent them from freezing. The key is to get them growing well enough to have an established root system and decent size before cooler temps and diminished daylight.

Here are some crops that do well as autumn approaches.


Carrots are a great fall crop. They can be direct seeded into good soil but keep it moist or the seeds won’t germinate, advises Arricca Sansone in an article for Country Living. Once the seedlings are up, thin the plants so they are at least an inch apart. If they are too close together, they’ll be stunted and deformed.

When the weather starts to freeze, mulch the carrots with a heavy layer of straw or leaves. As long as the ground around them isn’t frozen, you can harvest carrots all winter. They don’t continue to grow, but the flavor becomes sweeter in the cold.

Think salads

Leaf lettuce varieties are a perfect fall crop. They mature fast and thrive in cool weather. The same is true for spinach. In fact, these plants usually do better in the fall. In spring, the arrival of hot weather makes them bolt, so sometimes the harvesting season is short. In contrast, they keep producing through the cooler fall weather and many varieties can even tolerate light frost.

Kale is another hardy leafy green perfect for fall. It will withstand a heavy frost, and its flavor is improved by cold weather, notes Sansone. If you harvest only a few leaves at a time from each plant they’ll keep producing. Some varieties overwinter and rebound in the spring.

Go underground

In addition to carrots, other root crops that do well in fall include radishes, green onions, garlic, turnips, parsnips and beets. The last three are great to add to hearty soups when the weather gets cold. As with carrots, mulch heavily before the ground freezes and you can continue harvesting through early winter. If you don’t want to leave them in the ground, they store well in the fridge or even a dark, cool cellar.

Nutrient-dense options

Did you know 2017 is the Year of the Brassica? Also called cole crops, these include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage and more. In general, these vegetables handle cold better than heat, so fall is often the best growing season.

“Brassica provide plenty of nutrition (vitamin C and soluble fiber) and healthy doses of glucosinolates, a compound that helps reduce the risk of various cancers of the digestive tract,” reports the National Garden Bureau. “In addition, red Brassicas provide mega-doses of Anthocyanin (a powerful antioxidant) at bargain prices.”

Prepare and protect

If you choose to plant your fall crops in beds that already grew a summer crop, enrich the soil by adding compost before planting. It’s important to make sure soil stays moist for proper seed germination but not so wet that seedlings drown. Raised beds can make it easier to control water.

Organic mulch like straw or grass clippings can help keep soil temperature cooler, which many of these plants prefer. And if the weather gets too warm, you can protect tender plants with white fabric row coverings.

With a little effort, you can enjoy fresh vegetables from your garden for several more months. It’s always a treat when Thanksgiving and Christmas meals feature your produce.

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Les Parks: Norfolk Botanical Garden’s new director of horticulture speaks on planting places of refuge – Virginian

When Les Parks says “the garden is in a growth phase,” it’s not an intentional pun. There are so many developments under way at the Norfolk Botanical Garden – renovation of the administration building and the NATO tower, new events and programming, increases in attendance and memberships – that necessary staff adjustments bumped him up to another position.

Earlier this year, Parks became the garden’s director of horticulture after five years as curator of herbaceous plants. He and his staff execute the overall garden design created by the director of living landscapes, Brian O’Neil. (O’Neil was director of horticulture before accepting his newly created position.)

President and CEO Michael Desplaines said Parks was an ideal candidate. “He was experienced in horticulture with tremendous local knowledge. … Staff, volunteers and the public all admired him, and he could interface with our new director of living landscapes seamlessly.”

With an associate’s degree in landscape design from George Washington University, Parks worked in the retail gardening business at the now-closed Smithfield Gardens in Suffolk for 16 years, helping customers choose plants and design their gardens.

Parks’ experience in communications also makes him valuable to the garden, said Kelly Welsh, marketing and communications director. She pointed to his appearances on the garden’s monthly segment “You Can Dig It” on WTKR’s “Coast Live.” He also has video blogs on the garden’s Facebook page, sharing garden happenings and gardening tips.

Parks started a blog in 2008 to connect with other garden bloggers, share his adventures and photos and promote gardening in general. A Tidewater Gardener can be found at http://atidewater He also has a blog about kayaking, called A Tidewater Paddler. With his new position, he hasn’t had much time to write, but plans to get back to it.

“I have several pieces that I should be able to post some future cold rainy day. Until then I will be outside enjoying the warm sunshine,” he quipped.

Parks’ interest in horticulture had been born of necessity. His first career was in the hotel industry after he earned a degree in sociology from Old Dominion University. During those years, gardening at home was his “refuge from the 9-to-5 job,” he said.

Today, he gets to work at what he loves, although he still spends more time behind a desk than he’d like. The position calls for overseeing a staff of 25 who are responsible for the daily upkeep of all the theme gardens, lawns and fountains and the propagation of plants grown in the garden from seeds or cuttings.

“Yes, it’s about plants,” Parks said of his job, “but it’s also about the people who work here and making sure they have the tools and resources to do their jobs.”

Drawing more people to Norfolk Botanical Garden is a chief goal.

“Everyone needs a place of refuge, a place to walk, a place of beauty. We need our green spaces and wildlife,” he said. “For years, the garden was Norfolk’s best-kept secret. We don’t want to be a best-kept secret.”

Special exhibits, like “Lantern Asia” last year, have introduced more people to the 79-year-old public garden.

Younger people, in particular, are being attracted through events like Barks Brews and the honeybee and butterfly festivals, he noted.

The garden itself is changing with stepped-up efforts to plant more native plants, which attract native insects, which attract native birds, he said. He provided examples: Black-eyed Susan flowers attract native finches. Native oak trees host various caterpillar species, providing a “supermarket for birds feeding their young.”

“When we plant, we ask, ‘What will its benefits be?’ ” Parks explained. “It’s not just about being pretty anymore.”

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Gardening: Tips and recipes for storing and pickling your summer veg

AFTER THE HARD work and frustrations of this growing year (sowing, planting, tending, watering, weeding etc), one would be forgiven for desiring something of a break.

But, chin up folks, because the most vital step of all still remains to be done. You could have produced the most magnificent crops, but if you fail to store them correctly you might as well throw them on the compost heap (which is where they will end up anyway).

In the 24/7 supermarket food culture we live in, storing food has become somewhat of a defunct skill. Our immediate forebears on the other hand were expert at it (and of course, they had to be) – by necessity they developed cutting edge, yet ancient, techniques for storing and preserving food.

In Ireland entire crops of spuds and carrots could be stored for months on end in an open field with a covering of straw and soil in a process known as “clamping”. In Germany they could preserve cabbage by making sauerkraut while in Austria, whole cabbages were stored in 4-metre pits and the fermented end product, known as grubenkraut, could last for up to three years.

Vegetable storing solutions

In theory many crops such as potatoes, beetroot and carrots can be left in the soil and used as needed over the winter. In practice, if I leave crops in the ground I find that they simply get damaged by my wet soil or by pests (worms, slugs, mice etc). So, instead I lift the crops and store them.

With the exception of some kale, leeks and the hardy parsnip my veg patch is more or less in lockdown from November until April. Though there are some additional veg like oriental greens and other leaves available in the polytunnel, it is from “stores” that the variety of food will come.

There are all sorts of methods to “store” vegetables and we use pretty much all of them at home. Some methods suit some vegetables better than others. Berries, celery, tomatoes, courgettes, chilli-peppers, peas and beans are freezer-bound. Onions and garlic will be hung in braids.

Cucumbers and pears will be pickled. Apples will be juiced or stewed and frozen. Pumpkins and squash will take pride of place above the dresser where thanks to their thick skins, they will survive for months. There will be chutney. Lots of chutney. Potatoes will be stored in sacks; beetroot and carrots in sand. Parsnips and celeriac are tough enough to survive life outside in the cold soil.

As the winter draws in, nothing brings out my inner hunter-gatherer quite like having a full larder.

The Basics – Storing Root Crops

If it’s sunny when you harvest your potatoes, leave them on the surface of the soil for a day – the sun and wind will dry them off and make the skin harden a little. Only store the best of your spuds. A spud that rots in storage can take lots of other spuds with it – so it’s worth investing some time to make sure you are not inadvertently storing any damaged ones.

You can store spuds in hessian sacks (which allows air to circulate and deters rotting) or in a timber box. A layer of fleece or a blanket over the container will keep the cold and light out – frost can have an impact even inside a shed, and light can green the potatoes.

For storing beetroot and carrots in sand: get most of the heavy clay off them (never wash them before storage) and cut the foliage off about an inch from the top of the veg. I simply pack them in layers of sand or peat in a box or crate, making sure that they don’t touch each other. Check frequently for signs of rotting and remove any suspect looking veg. Horticultural or play sand, which is available in garden centres, will work perfectly.

Food Matters @ GROW HQ – Friday 29 and Saturday 30 September

To celebrate our first birthday at GROW HQ, we are hosting a weekend of talks, panel discussions and demos called Food Matters. On Friday night, we’ve a very special, intimate Demo and Dine evening with Rory O’Connell in our award winning restaurant.

On Saturday Alys Fowler, Kitty Scully, Paul Flynn and Fiona Kelly will join our own Head Grower Richard Mee and Head Chef JB Dubois for a range of completely free demos and talks. We also have panel discussions on everything from community food markets to Food as Medicine.

On Saturday night we are hosting a long table Harvest Dinner to celebrate the best of our garden produce with a 4-course dinner. For more information visit

Recipe of the Week – My Favourite Pickled Cucumber Recipe

Source: Justyna Troc via Shutterstock


  • 4 large cucumbers
  • 3 medium onions
  • 50g salt
  • 570ml white wine vinegar
  • 454g soft brown sugar
  • ½ level teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ level teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp of mustard seed


Wash the cucumber and slice very thinly. Peel the onions and slice very thinly. Layer the cucumbers and onions in a large bowl with a sprinkling of salt in between layers. Weight down with a plate and stand for three hours. This will draw some of the moisture out of the vegetables. Then pour away the liquid and rinse the cucumbers and onions twice under running water.

Sterilise your jars in a hot oven – you can use jam or kiln jars. Put the vinegar, sugar and spices in a stainless steel saucepan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the cucumber and onions to the saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes.

Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reduce the remaining syrup for 15-20 minutes. Gently fill the jars with the vegetables – don’t press them down. Pour the syrup over the vegetables in the jars – just enough in each to cover the veg. Cover immediately with sterilised, plastic lined lids.

When the jars are cold, label them and store somewhere cool and dark.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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KATHY RENWALD: Neighbourly garden tips from Stinson

Pink cleome is in bloom, artemisia frames rocks and hostas appear all over the garden.

“Here’s a tip for you,” he offers. “I leave the hostas in pots, I upsize them every other year. The pots retain water longer so the hostas don’t dry out.”

Anton also collects leaves from around the neighbourhood. They get packed around hostas in the fall and, later, lightly packed on top. The leaves are a good insulating blanket.

“As they decay, they’re a worm farm,” Anton says. “Worms love rotting leaves. But it means you gotta clean up in the spring. No doubt about it.”

Against some of the craggier rocks, silvery kale appears to be growing in crevices. Look closely and you’ll see the kale is in pots and trimmed up like standards. I thought it was intentional but Anton says it’s not.

“I grew kale from seed for the first time, four types, and it got too leggy so I had to trim off the lower leaves.”

The garden will be better in about two weeks, he tells me. The angle of the sun will highlight the autumn-coloured coleus, and the centres of the kale will develop a richer colour. Oakleaf hydrangea will start turning purple, red and apricot.

“This is a good neighbourhood; we admire each other’s gardens. The lady across the street is 87 and still gardens. I like to cut flowers and take them to her.”

That’s Anton the anonymous gardener sharing tips and flowers from the Stinson ‘hood.

Update: The dahlia pals I wrote about last week had a good showing at the Harrogate Autumn Garden Show in England. John Mooney won a bronze for his red seedling and had three seconds overall.


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Time to dig in: Alan Titchmarsh’s tips on planting camellias or azaleas

Welcome to the planting season!

Yes, I know that many folk consider the planting season to be spring, but there is a whole host of things that can really benefit from being planted in your garden in late summer or early autumn.

As well as evergreens and conifers, which are traditionally planted at this time of year and are grateful for soil that’s not cold, Britain’s increasingly frequent Indian summers are doing much to keep the soil hospitable to other plant roots, too.

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Garden Variety: Some tips on growing and harvesting leeks

When many crops in Kansas vegetable gardens are nearing the end of their season, leeks are just coming into their own. Gardeners and farmers who planted them last spring may begin harvest in September to early October depending on the planting and maturity dates for the variety they are growing. With careful planning, selection, and a little extra care, harvest may continue throughout the winter.

Leeks are related to onions, garlic, shallots, and other alliums and grow in a similar fashion. At the base of the plant is a bundle of leaf sheaths that look like a small white onion. The white bulb-like structure is topped by long, slender, dark green leaves. Leeks are sold with leaves intact and much of the leaves may be used in cooking along with the white base.

Cooks use leeks raw in salads or cooked as a flavoring for soups and stews, stir-fry, Turkish and Welsh cuisine, and other dishes. They are often described as having a mild onion-like flavor. Purchasing fresh, local leeks while they are in season is the best way to try them at their peak of freshness and flavor.

To add leeks to the garden next year, plan to plant them in spring. If starting from seed, plant the seeds in trays indoors a couple of months before they will be moved outdoors. Purchasing seedlings may be easier although harder to find. Consider purchasing leek plants online or by mail order if they are unavailable locally. Plant in full sun in any type of garden with well-drained fertile soil. Leeks can even be grown in tall containers.

To get the white base on leeks, the base must be completely hidden from the sun. Plant leeks six to eight inches deep and about 6 inches apart to give them room to grow. If the plants are too short to plant at that depth at the time of transplanting, dig the hole to that depth, but only fill it in enough to support the plant. As the plant gains height, the hole can be filled in to ground level.

Mulch plants after transplanting to reduce weed competition and reduce soil and moisture fluctuations. Straw or prairie hay are typically preferred in vegetable gardens, but any sort of mulch is better than leaving bare soil around the plants.

When stems are about an inch thick, mound soil and/or mulch up on the stems to create even more depth.

Harvest begins when leeks have reached the size of your liking. Harvest a few at a time and/or as the leeks needed since they will continue to grow very slowly when left in the ground. Use a spading fork or shovel to loosen the soil around the plant and lift them out of the deep soil. Trim the roots and tops, wash, and they are ready to use.

Leeks are generally considered hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Lawrence is in Zone 6, meaning it is a little colder. In a mild winter, leeks can be harvested all season. But in a very cold winter or in a period of cold weather extremes, leeks may freeze in the ground. If very cold weather is expected, harvest any remaining leeks to avoid them freezing.

Adding an extra deep layer of mulch around the plants as winter approaches can also help them to survive especially cold temperatures.

Research varieties when selecting which leeks to grow. A few varieties have a short maturity date and may be ready to harvest in the summer after a spring planting. The best varieties for fall and winter harvest will be labeled as such or are sometimes. They typically have maturity dates of 100 to 120 days after planting.

Leeks can be interplanted with other crops to save space in a vegetable garden, or incorporated into the landscape as their foliage is attractive.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation.

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