Saturday, August 22, 2015

Grow a Successful Fall Garden

In the southern region, we can grow three seasons of crops, but there are some some things you need to know if you want to grow a successful fall garden.

Fall Crops

Lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and carrots are family-friendly veggies that can be started in August and September for the fall season. If you want late season herbs, parsley, basil, and cilantro still have time to grow for a nice late season harvest.

Starting Seeds

While most seeds can be started inside under grow lights, adjusting seedlings from indoors to the sometimes hot and harsh conditions outside can be a challenge. Seedlings moved from indoors to outdoors require weathering -- a time of adjustment for a few weeks while slowly getting them accustomed to being outside. I prefer to direct sow fall crops as often as possible because I don't have to deal with weathering.

The key to germinating seeds outdoors during this heat is getting the soil temperature down. Bare soil sitting in the summer sun may be too hot for seed germination, so if you’re looking to sprout anything you need two things:
  • Water: When I am waiting for seeds to sprout and encouraging wee little seedlings to grow I water every day. As they get older, their roots will grow deeper and watering can become less frequent. A drip irrigation system is a convenient and economical way to keep young seedlings watered. Whatever your method of watering, be sure not to use a spray forceful enough to damage young seedlings. Watering wands offer a convenient way to water anything.
  • Mulch: I plant my seeds, then cover them with a thin layer of mulch 2-3 inches thick. Each day I check for sprout growth. Once the seeds sprout, I move the mulch out of the way to make sure they can get some sun, making sure the surrounding soil is still covered. Light, loose mulch such as straw or pine needles are the best options for mulching while spouting. Composted sawdust or shredded newspaper will likely be too dense for the seedlings to make it through.
Growing a successful fall garden starts with proper soil care and plenty of water for young seedlings. Get your fall garden off to a good start for fresh harvests through the first hard freeze!

What fall crop would you like to grow this year?

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Washington County Fair 2015

I don't talk about it a lot here -- I mean, ahem, I don't like to brag or anything -- but I have been a Washington County Master Gardener since 2012. The Master Gardener program is part of county Extension Service and we are fortunate to have a wonderful Extension Service and amazing Master Gardener program of which I admittedly do not take full advantage. 

I, along with a group of bloggers, am being compensated by the Washington County Fair for this post but all opinions (and enthusiasm!) are my own.

What's So Great About the Fair? 

One of the many projects that the Washington Master Gardeners support is the Washington County Fair. You might remember going to the fair as a child and eating funnel cakes and riding something that spins, but there is so much more to it. Naturally, I love seeing all the chickens and goats and cows, but my favorite part are the horticulture displays. This is where we get to see what folks in our area are growing including fruits and veggies, like giant pumpkins and watermelon, as well as some stunning flowers. 

Why Should I Register My Harvests at the Fair?

Other than bragging rights, which you totally deserve, award ribbons are given out and displayed by the winners in each category. There are actual cash awards for the winners, y'all. Have you ever wanted to say you've won a blue ribbon for your tomatoes, squash or zinnias? Well, now's your chance! You don't even have to have a garden to register for horticulture -- there is a category for houseplants. In each category blue ribbons are awarded $3, red ribbons $2 and white ribbons $1.
The Master Gardeners also award an additional cash prize to the Youth Grand Champion and Reserved Champion in each division.

Has your kiddo helped in the garden this year? Did they grow their own crop? If so, they can register in the youth-only category for extra chances to win. 

What if I Just Want to Look?

You certainly don't have to  register your harvests to enjoy this part of the fair. The 2015 Washington County Fair is September 1 through September 5, and the horticulture building will be open. Entries will be displayed throughout the fair along with their award ribbons. I think this is a particularly fun opportunity for new gardeners to see the vast array of crops that can be grown in NW Arkansas. 

Keep up with all the goings on at the Washington County fair by following their social media:
All the information you need to submit your crops for judging is at the Washington County Extension Service or online at

For ticket prices, click here

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Simple Summer Salsa Recipe

One of my favorite skits on Seinfeld was when George and Jerry were sitting at the booth in the coffee shop discussing salsa as a condiment. It went something like this:

George: Salsa is now the number one condiment in America.
Jerry: Do you know why? Because people like to say salsa. Do you have any salsa? We need more salsa! Where is the salsa?  No salsa?

While Jerry certainly makes a valid point -- salsa is fun to say -- there is more to this condiment than the way it rolls off the tongue. Like any tasty treat, the most important aspect of salsa is the way it tastes on the tongue. What I love about this simple summer salsa recipe is that it is full of fresh, bright summer tomato flavor with a hint of spice and a splash of citrus. It’s light and cool and bright -- everything I’m looking for in a meal in the summer heat of Arkansas. Perhaps the best aspect of this recipe is that every ingredient except the lime can be locally sourced. Sometimes it’s difficult to find local cilantro in the summer, since it’s a cool season crop, but it is easily found at grocery stores or it can be omitted altogether.

Simple Summer Salsa

5 medium slicing tomatoes
½ cup diced white onion
1 medium jalapeno, seed removed and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, lightly chopped (optional)
½ lime
salt to taste

Core tomatoes and remove any bad spots. Run the tomatoes through a food processor for a few seconds so that they are still a little chunky.
Place all ingredients to a large bowl and combine well. Salsa can be served fresh but it’s best to let it sit at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before serving for the fullest flavor.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Selecting the Right Crops for Fall Planting

The key to growing food throughout the autumn season, for holiday harvests and cold-weather eating, is selecting the right crops for fall planting.  In and around NW Arkansas and south, some summer plants will grow well into October, while unprotected fall crops grow until the first killing freeze -- below 26°.

Considerations for Fall Planting

When considering fall planting, you will need to look at two things:

Frost tolerance 

Seed packages or plant containers will say things like “frost tolerant” or “cold hardy” to let you know they can take some below freezing temperatures.

Days to maturity 

If you are planting in mid-September, you will need crops that are both frost-tolerant and mature in less than 50 days. If you are starting with plants instead of planting seed directly, you can select items that mature in 60-70 days. Look at the first expected frost date in your area, then count back the days to maturity to find out by what date you must plant.

Cold-Hardy Plant Options

What kinds of crops meet these requirements? More than you might think.
  • Carrots- Carrots can be planted in September and stored right there in the ground until you are ready to harvest. When a hard freeze is expected, just pile a few inches of leaves or straw to protect the roots from freezing.
  • Radishes- Maturing in about 30 days, radishes can be planted up to about a month before the first expected frost date and they will take a light frost.
  • Turnips- The greens are frost tolerant and are super tasty sauteed. Roots can be overwintered in the ground when prepped like carrots.
  • Lettuce- Lettuce is frost-tolerant and grows very quickly.
  • Cabbage- Head cabbage and Chinese cabbage will grow through the first frost, although head cabbage is more tolerant of cold than the Chinese variety.
  • Sweet peas and sugar snap peas- These plants will require a small trellis, around 3 feet tall, and grow very well on tomato cages.
  • Kale, Swiss chard, arugula and mustard greens- These varieties are very hardy and tend to do well even past the holidays.
  • Cilantro and Parsley- these herbs tolerate a frost and grow quickly.
Any of these varieties can be grown in containers, although containers will not insulate roots as well, so overwintering root veggies probably won’t be an option. Still, you can harvest the roots before the first hard frost and store them in a cool, dry area like an unheated garage. You can prolong the growing season a bit by using a floating row cover like this one from Gardener's Supply which protects crops down to 24°, perfect to protect your crops from those early cold snaps! Be sure to select the right crops for fall planting and try growing some this year.

What is your favorite cold-weather crop?

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Friday, August 14, 2015

And the giveaway winner is....

Last week I offered a giveaway here on my blog, just in time for back to school!

The winner of the $100 JCPenny gift card is...

Lindsey, who said "If I win, I would be splitting the card between fall clothes for the 3 monkeys (because the summer stuff that still fits will only get them to October, fingers crossed) and a few workout shorts for me for my teaching/coaching job. Or I may just end up blowing it all on shoes! ;)"

Congratulations, Lindsey! I'll be contacting you shortly for your mailing address. Didn't win? Be sure to check my facebook page to see if you won the other two gift cards.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Grilled Balsamic Eggplant

I love all the colors showing up at farmers markets now. Red tomatoes, blackberries, green beans -- they get my creative kitchen juices flowing. One of my favorite colors at the farmers market is purple. Eggplant purple. These heat-loving veggies are full of nutrients and are incredibly filling. I like to use them as a side for my summer meals instead of pasta and bread. With a large side of eggplant, no one will go away from a summer cookout hungry. Of course, if you want folks to eat the eggplant, it has to be appetizing.

This grilled eggplant recipe can be prepared on a stovetop grill pan or, to avoid heating up the kitchen during the hot summer months, outside on a gas or charcoal grill. The dense texture of eggplant stands up well against the heat of a grill while the porous inside flesh absorbs marinade beautifully. Prep and cook time is minimal, making this one of my favorite summer staples. Grilled balsamic eggplant pairs well with meat, fish or pasta.

Grilled Balsamic Eggplant


1 medium eggplant
1 tablespoon fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro or parsley
2 garlic cloves- minced
½ teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste


  1. Slice the eggplant into long, thin slices, about ¼ inch thick. 
  2. Place the eggplant in a gallon zipper bag and add all the other ingredients except salt and pepper.
  3. Combine ingredients well and allow the eggplant to marinate for 1 hour at room temperature.
  4. Remove the eggplant from the bag, preserving the rest of the marinade.
  5. Pre-heat the grill and place the eggplant on the hot grate to get the best grill marks. Cook about 3 minutes on each side.
  6. Top with remaining marinade and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Low-Maintenance Container Gardens for Busy People

Containers can be planted in spring, summer or fall. Low-maintenance container gardens are perfect for busy people who want to grow their own food but lack a lot of time to maintain a garden. As you consider planting containers, first consider how much time you have.

How Much Time do You Have for Gardening?

Free time. What’s that?

If you meet yourself coming and going, but really want to try growing your own food, start with lettuce. It’s easy to grow in a container, requires almost no maintenance, is simple to harvest, and thrives in cool weather or in partial sun in the summer.

In a 12 to 24 inch planter, fill to about 2 inches below the rim with high-quality potting soil (I like this organic option from Gardener's Supply). Lightly sprinkle leaf lettuce seeds on top of the soil, about one inch apart, and cover with about 1/4 inch of soil. Water well. Place the planter in full sun, and water when the soil is dry one inch below the surface. Some attractive container options include railing planters and hanging planters.

I have a minute or two

For those who have a few luxurious minutes and would like to spend some of it outside, herbs are a great choice to add to the lettuce crop. The nice thing about herbs is that, once established, they can be brought indoors in a sunny spot for fresh winter eating.

Cilantro, parsley, and basil all thrive in these cooler days. In one medium to large planter (14” or larger) or several smaller ones, sprinkle seeds with the same spacing as lettuce, and cover lightly with soil and water thoroughly. Place in full sun. Once seedlings are four inches tall, thin to 4”-6” between plants, or one per small planter.

One more project? Bring it on!

Those who have more free time and a desire to really start growing food for their family, should consider adding broccoli to the container garden. Even after the main head is harvested, the plant will continue to produce yummy side shoots, like mini-broccolis, past the first freeze of the season.

Seeds can be sewn in 14” planters by digging a ½” hole and dropping in 3 seeds. Water well. Once the seedlings are 4” tall, thin to one per container. Broccoli prefers partial shade so if you have a spot on the deck or porch with only a few hours of sun, consider growing broccoli there.

Regardless of your schedule, you can grow something in low-maintenance container gardens for busy people. And don’t forget to get those kids involved! Many studies are coming out proving that children are more likely to eat their veggies when they are included in the growth process.
What is your favorite container plant?

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