Why buy heirloom seeds, and a to-do list for the season. Plus, how to harvest garlic scapes. Take a look...

Note from Dee Dee

I am a wife, mother and wannabe homesteader. My hubby and I now own a small farm where I grow and craft for local markets and events. Our passion for working the land, cooking, crafting, and taking a hands-on approach to life outweighs everything else right now... and as we learn, so will you. Thanks for joining us!

To Heir Is Herbaceous

Well, this is an official announcement of sorts. I've planted or seeded all heirlooms this year and plan to do so year after year after year. What's sparked this new found passion for old-timey food? Maybe the thought of grocery store tomatoes being picked unripe and chemically treated to redden on the trek across country is too gross to eat? Or it could be that I enjoy educating people who will otherwise never know that heirloom corn comes in over 20 different distinctive varieties and color combinations? Perhaps it's a desire to stand behind the handful of Mom and Pop companies that take time and much effort to save heirloom seed so it is available to all to grow and love? What's this, you guessed it? Well good for you! It's all of the above!

With that said, I'm happy to report that the market garden, kitchen garden and even the "chicken" garden has become a paradise for heirloom aficionados and neophytes alike. Adirondack Red potatoes, Beurre De Rocquencourt long beans, Noir de Carmes Melon, Moon and Stars watermelon, Amish Paste tomatoes, Malaysian Dark Red eggplant, Thai Yellow Chili peppers... I mean, come on. Super cool, right?! There is something sacred about seed that has been handed down from generation to generation in Panama, Italy and Japan - all over the world - and now I have the opportunity to become a seed-saving hero too. Okay, a bit dramatic I admit, but you get the importance of it all, right? Growing heirloom fruit, vegetables, herbs and even flowers shouldn't be viewed as just another choice we have, but as a commitment we must make to keep these varieties alive.

Resources: Baker Creek, Sustainable Seed Company, Wood Prairie Farm, bbbseed.

If You Love It, Set It Free

April chores aren't easy, so let's start out slow. You’ve had the pleasure of growing your own herbs, citrus, roses, even blackberries indoors over the winter… isn’t it about time you let them breath some fresh air and take in as much sunshine as possible? Overgrown plants (especially citrus trees) will certainly appreciate it and produce much more for you. But do it right, put them out by day, bring them in by night for the first few days… letting them stay out longer and longer each time. And if the weather is still a bit iffy, then move them to a spot that is close to the back door, so you can quickly bring them back inside if need be. Are the plants large enough to be planted outside? That’s something you may want to consider as the weather starts to heat up. (chore list)

Who Makes The Cut?

If you type “prune dead branches” into Google you get a multitude of responses that say different things. So, to prune or not to prune? Hmm. What if you have a tree that is so overloaded with branches that the center of the tree can’t get enough sunlight and stay healthy? If you’re pruning for shape, however, you should be very careful to not (unnecessarily) stress an otherwise healthy plant. With each cut you encourage new growth and one blogger explains that winds at this time of year can cause too much damage to these tenderlings. So consider everything and prune with care. Now is also the time to prune old canes off your berry bushes that already bore fruit. Keeps the plants strong and prevents the spread of disease. ( how to video)

Put 'Em In Before You Put 'Em Up

We already have our garden plans from previous months, the soil is beautifully amended, and now all that’s left is to get busy planting and seeding. Yes, it’s true that some of us have already started last month, and there are many things that can be planted during every month really. But this is the time when we all can just go for it; get that spring bug out of our system because the list of things to grow is long and very exciting. Go get your gear and get ta plantin'. (zoning guide)

Plant now: Snap Beans, Basil, Beets, Carrots, Celery, Chard, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Mustard, Parsnips, Peppers, Sweet Potatoes, Radishes, Soybean/Edamame, Spinach, Summer and Winter Squash, Tomatoes.
Grow heirloom garlic? You betcha!

Did you know that softneck garlic (what major grocers sell) is typically a hybrid variety? It is bred that way for two reasons: 1) it does not put out a flower so the extra maintenance is eliminated, and 2) the heads store much longer than hardneck. In fact, store-bought garlic is typically sprayed with a growth inhibitor making it hard to re-grow! Not to mention that almost all store-bought garlic is imported from China. What's cheap and easy for the grocers, weighs heavy on our conscience, right? It might be time to choose from the 500 heirloom varieties and grow this amazing plant ourselves.

To grow your own garlic, start with seed from a reputable company. Garlic is part of the onion family and this hardy group just wants to bulb out and flower. On hardneck varieties, the flower stalk comes up through the middle of the garlic head and is hard like a twig. Individual cloves are usually very large, which means there are fewer in the entire head. And the cloves are neatly arranged around the stalk, whereas the cloves in a softneck variety will be smaller and tend to overlap.

To sow, separate the cloves leaving the skins intact, plant in fertile soil with the pointy end up. Plant six inches apart. (Make sure the entire clove, tip included, is completely covered.) Depending on your region, you can sow hardneck from September-November and cover it with mulch to overwinter. (It might poke through before a freeze but that's okay, as long as it's mulched it should survive just fine.)

Sometime in late spring/early summer the plant will put out a long flower stalk called a scape.
Take note: It's very important to remove the scape; individual cloves won't develop properly. It will curl and you'll want it to make at least 1 1/2 - 2 full curls before cutting them off. Make the cut just above the first set of leaves. But don't throw it out! This amazingly flavorful part of the plant is great to eat too. The taste is somewhere between onion and garlic and is a great substitute for either.

Stop watering two weeks after cutting off the scape, and in another two weeks after that, the leaves will turn brownish and the bulb will have fully formed meaning 
your plant is ready for harvesting. Use a shovel to dig up the entire plant (being careful to not damage the bulb), use your hose to spray off as much soil as possible, and let it sit outside in a shady spot for a few days so the top can dry out even more. Then hang it in a protected place (garage? store room?) where it won't get too hot and has decent air flow.

In two weeks cut the top off (down to about 2 inches), cut off the roots and peel back 1-2 skin layers. Use it or store it at this point! Yum!

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