Help Your Plants Beat the Heat

Summer heat is already beating down across much of the nation, spelling disaster for many young seedlings. So what can you do to protect your future food investment? Try these tips for how to help your plants beat the heat.

Water

Check moisture levels daily, maybe even more often for container plants. When the mercury starts cruising up over 85… 95… 105 water evaporates in a flash. And when your plants are young, their tender root systems can be irreparably damaged before you know it.

Water first thing in the morning before the sun gets too high and the day gets too hot. This helps in two ways. First, plants draw up water through the roots as the temperature rises. If the soil is dry they will draw up only air. Secondly, any water dripped on the leaves can turn into tiny magnifying glasses burning the leaves with the sun’s heat.

Mulch

When it’s hot out, you’ll need to do more than water regularly, you’ll need to preserve as much of that water as you can. Adding a good, thick layer of mulch around your plants can help keep the moisture in the soil. As an added bonus it will also help keep your plants’ roots cool.

Shade

Sometimes, the only way to keep your plants from whithering under the sun, is to move them to the shade until the worst of the heat passes. If you plant in containers, all you need to do is pull them to a shadier spot. If you plant in the ground however, you can still protect them by putting up a temporary shade cloth. A few bamboo poles and an old sheet is an inexpensive and simple solution.

Keep a close eye out for the signs your plants might be suffering from the heat including wilting, brown edges and scorch marks. If you notice any of these signs, act quickly and your precious plants can live to fruit another day.

Plant Profile: Rhubarb

rhubarb in flowerAh, rhubarb. It makes a fabulously tart pie filling, a tasty compote ingredient, a striking specimen planting, and yes, it even grows Little Shop of Horrors-style flowers if you don’t mind sacrificing a season’s worth of stalks. Watch for snails and your plant will be as beautiful as it is tasty.

Common name: Rhubarb
Scientific name: Rheum x hybridium
Family: Polygonaceae
Origin: Asia
Type: Perennial, can be grown as annuals in mild-winter areas
Exposure: Full sun (light shade in hottest areas)
Height: 24-36″
Width: 24-48″
Growth rate: Fast
Water: Regular
Zones: 3-8
Foliage color: Dark green
Flower color: Pink/burgundy
Edible: Stalks only
Harvest: Varies, usually late spring and early fall in North America
Propagation: Rhizomes, division
WARNING: ALL parts of the plant except the stalk are poisonous. Be sure to trim all leaf parts from the stalks before cooking.

Looking for fun ways to use all those rosy stalks? Check out these online recipes:

 

Plant a Hanging Salad Basket

Here’s a quick, easy way to have fresh greens all summer long (or year-round if you live in a mild-winter area). All you need are a few simple, inexpensive items:

  • Hanging planter
  • Potting soil or soiless potting mix
  • Lettuce or mixed greens seeds
  • A shady location to hang your basket
  • Wire screen (optional)

I selected a plastic self-watering container because it needs to be watered less often than other hanging baskets, but just about any hanging container with good drainage will do. Once you select your container, just:

  • Add soil
  • Sprinkle the seeds on top
  • Water gently so the seeds don’t get washed away
  • Hang the basket in a lightly shaded spot — tree branches work great because they allow some sun to pass through their leaves while protecting the tender lettuce from the worst afternoon heat

If you have birds or squirrels in your area, you may want to cover the basket with wire screen to protect the seedlings from getting snapped up before they are big enough for your plate.

After that, just keep the soil evenly moist and you’re on your way to delicious gourmet greens at a fraction of their store-bought price. For best results and to keep the goodness coming:

  • Snip only a few leaves from each plant at a time
  • When a plant is done producing, pull it out and sprinkle in more seeds

Enjoy!

Grow a Salsa Garden

This year, give your Cinco de Mayo celebration a gardener’s twist by planting a salsa garden. It’s a great way to add fresh latin flavor to any meal.

For my salsa garden I chose:

  • 1 Cherokee Purple tomato
  • 1 Garden Salsa chili pepper
  • 1 Jalapeno peper
  • Several onions (I purchased a small six-pack and shared it with friends)
  • 1 cilantro

You’ll need:

 

  • A large pot and potting soil or clear planting area in your garden that receives at least six full hours of sun per day
  • One tomato cage per tomato plant
  • Mulch
  • A variety of salsa vegetable and herb plants

 

To plant your salsa garden:

  • Clear your planting bed of any rocks and weeds (find container planting instructions and tips here)
  • Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go–put the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants
  • Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  • Plant each plant
  • Water thouroughly
  • Mulch

Be sure to water regularly throughout the season and by early august, you should have all the makings of the perfect fiesta.

Have more space? Consider planting a dwarf lime tree or an indoor avocado for even more options.

Dig deeper:
A Salsa Garden with Everything but Nachos

Garden Without a Yard

Even if you don’t have a yard, patio, or even a sunny windowsill, there are still plenty of ways to get out there and garden.

Community Gardens
According to the American Community Garden Association, a community garden is very simply “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” But it’s more that just that. Community gardening builds connections, provides educational and mentoring opportunities for new and experienced gardeners alike, improves the standard of living for those who garden there by providing healthier food as well as exercise in tending the plants that provide it, and helps individuals and communities become more self-reliant.

There are community gardens in neighborhoods throughout the country and the world. Most charge a nominal annual fee to cover operating expenses. To find a community garden in your area check the garden finder on the American Community Garden Association’s home page. You can also check out your town’s government pages or your local park and rec department.

Don’t have a community garden in your neighborhood? Start your own.

Yard Sharing

If you’re an urban farmer without a place to plant, consider sharing space in a neighbor’s yard, or even creating a small farming business across multiple yards. According to Hyperlocavore.com, a yard sharing community site, yard sharing is:

“…an arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources; space, time, strength, tools or skills, in order to grow food as locally as possible, to make neighborhoods resilient, kids healthy and food much cheaper! The group can be friends, family, neighbors, members of a faith community (or any combination!)”

Perhaps you have a neighbor who doesn’t have time to garden but would love fresh vegetables. Or a great aunt who can’t garden herself anymore but misses watching fresh fruit ripening on a vine. Yardsharing doesn’t just give landless gardeners a place to practice their art, it builds community, teaches the values of working together, of sharing, and, if successful, can raise the standard of living by improving the quality and availability of food for an entire neighborhood or group.

Volunteering

If you are willing to garden for the joy and experience instead of for crops, consider volunteering your time to a local educational or other charitable organization. Botanical gardens, public gardens, and educational farms can be found throughout the country and many are  suffering in this economic down-turn. Here are just a few that could use your help:

Try searching Volunteer Match for opportunities in your area. You might also consider helping out your local senior center or school gardens. If you don’t find one in your community, consider helping them start one.

Guerrilla Gardening
In some cases, you just have to garden where you can. For guerrilla gardeners, that means roadsides, sidewalk tree surrounds, street dividers, and abandoned lots. If you’re looking to add a few wildflowers to an empty field, that’s easy enough, but if your goal is vegetable gardening you’ll want to keep a few important things in mind:

  • Soil condition: If the land isn’t yours you have no way of knowing what’s been dumped there. Test the soil thoroughly before you plant anything you may want to eat.
  • Maintenance: It’s one thing to put up an overnight garden and another to make sure it gets watered and fertilized enough to thrive.
  • Vandalism and theft: There are those who may not share your love of gardening and decide to voice their dissent by pulling up your work by the roots. Still others may appreciate it too much and decide they want the plants or produce for their own yards. (For one sad cautionary tale visit YouGrowGirl.com.)
  • Legal ramifications: Technically, gardening someone else’s land is against the law. If the land you choose is a neglected median, chances are the owners will look the other way, but that may not always be the case. The best defense is to know what you’re going to say should someone stop you (non-confrontational is usually the best policy) and know when to walk away.

If you’re up to the task, guerrilla gardening can give great rewards not only in produce but in community-building and neighborhood beautification. Involve other locals to improve your success rate and share the fun. Get more tips and find like-minded gardeners at Guerrilla Gardening.org.

Do-It-Yourself Gutter Garden

Looking for more space in a small garden? Consider this clever idea: Create a vertical garden using low-cost or salvaged rain gutters.

Suzanne Forsling of Juneau, Alaska attached gutters to the side of her house creating not only additional space, but a planting area that helped alleviate some of the problems associated with the difficult Alaska climate (cold ground, low light levels, etc.).

Of course because the gutters are relatively shallow, you’ll need to choose carefully what you’ll plant there. Salad greens are a great choice, but Suzanne also had good luck with radishes.

One Garden tip: If you don’t have a wall or fence available, consider mounting the gutters to free-standing posts. Add locking casters to create a movable living wall that can be used to divide your outdoor space into separate rooms.

Dig deeper:
JuneauEmpire.com
GreenUpgrader.com
HomeGrown.org

Plant Profile: Green Globe Artichoke

If you’ve always thought of vegetables as something that should be hidden away in a separate part of the garden the Green Globe artichoke will change your mind. The large, deeply cut silver leaves and bright purple, thistle-like flowers would make a bold, ornamental statement in any garden, but the delicious edible buds make it a must have for those who want to grow their own food.

If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere artichokes thrive, you can harvest spring through fall, and because artichokes are perennial, they come back stronger, larger and more productive year after year. Green Globe is probably the most widely available artichoke, but you should also consider Violetta, a variety with purple buds. Steam them and serve them with melted butter or dip them in aioli. You can also slice the slightly licorice-flavored heart for use in salads or on pizzas.

Common name: Artichoke, Green Globe
Scientific name: Cynaria scolymus
Family: Asteraceae
Origin: Mediteranean
Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full sun (light shade in hottest areas)
Height: 6′
Width: 4′
Growth rate: Fast
Water: Regular
Zones: 8-9
Foliage color: Silver-green
Flower color: Purple
Edible: Flower buds
Harvest: Fall through spring
Propagation: Seeds, division
WARNING: Bud leaves have sharp spikes, trim before eating.

Create a “Greenhouse” Window

Here is a great project from blogger Kelly Tirman. Originally built to hide an unsightly view, it’s also a perfect way to maximize sun exposure for indoor plants. Imagine each pot filled with a different herb, perched right above the kitchen sink. It would make cooking with the freshest ingredients a breeze.

Here are Kelly’s instructions.

Here is what you will need:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdriver
  • L brackets (four brackets for each shelf)
  • 1/4 inch thick glass cut to fix your window (one for each shelf)
  • Small potted plants and/or collectibles

Prep: Measure your window to determine the size of your shelves and how many shelves you would like in your window. Consult your local glass company for the pieces of glass (I use Theisen Glass).

Installation: Secure your L brackets in place with a screwdriver and place your pieces of glass on top. Once the shelves are in place add your potted plants and/or collectibles.

I love this idea, especially for apartment dwellers who want to maximize their planting space. One note, if you rent you may want to check your rental agreement or talk to your landlord to make sure you won’t be charged for removal when you move out.

For more great money-saving ideas visit KellyTirman.com.

Planting Containers

Once you’ve selected your container and decided which plants to fill it with, putting it all together is a breeze.

  1. Ensure your container has enough drainage, if not, drill some additional holes
  2. Cover holes with fine mesh, cheesecloth, or coffee filters to prevent soil from running out of the pot
  3. Fill your pot with soil; do not use soil from the garden as it may contain deseases or impurities which could become concentrated within the container and damage plants
  4. Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go, putting the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants– be sure to pay close attention to the spacing requirements, especially with seeds (Tip: In containers, plant seeds approximately 1/3 closer together than in the garden to maximize space.)
  5. Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  6. Plant each plant
  7. Water thouroughly
  8. Mulch to help preserve moisture

That’s it! Happy planting.

Money-Saving Gardening Tips

Growing vegetables can help you save money on groceries, but with a few simple tricks you can save even more. Some of them will even help you save a little time, too.

Start With Seed
The average cost for a pack of 100 organic seeds is $2.50. That’s 2.5 cents per plant. Even if only half of them make it to full plant-hood, that’s an unbelievably low price, especially when you compare it to the $3 or more many nurseries charge for a single organic seedling.

Share Seeds and Seedlings
Even if you’re planting one-seed-per-veggie plants like carrots or radishes, 100 seeds are probably more than you will ever use in a single season. Rather than buying a full pack of seeds for every vegetable you want to plant, go in with your gardening friends and have each of you pick a different variety to share. That way, if you want to grow three varieties of tomato, a zucchini, a pumpkin, two types of beans, shelling peas a sweet pea and a bell pepper instead of purchasing 10 seed packets at $2.50 each for a total cost of $25, you and 9 friends can each spend only $2.50 each and share the wealth. The same thing goes for seedlings. It’s just as easy to start several seedlings as it is to start one, so if you have space, considering growing a six-pack and trading plants instead of seeds.

Embrace Heirlooms
Most commercially available seeds are hybrid plants bred for disease resistance and productivity. Unfortunately, hybrids cannot be reliably reproduced from saved seeds. That means you need to buy a new pack of seeds every season. Not so with heirloom vegetables. If you save a seed from an heirloom and plant it, you will very likely wind up with the very same plant. And since one pumpkin alone can contain hundreds of seeds, you’ll have plenty for you and your friends to share at a grand total cost of $0.

NOTE: Many heirloom seeds of the same type cross-pollinate with each other. For example, if you have a miniature blue corn planted next to a giant sweet white corn, your following year’s plants may be a giant blue, a miniature white or even a regularly sized yellow, depending on how they combine. With things like corn, you’ll need to stick to a single variety to ensure a consistent crop. Still, since the seeds are essentially free, it might be a fun adventure to mix things up and see what you get.

Plant Perennials
Plant a perennial once and it comes back year after year (provided you take good care of it)—usually bigger and stronger. And because many perennials can be dug up and divided into smaller plants after several seasons of growth, you’ll save even more. A few examples of fantastic perennial vegetables are artichokes, asparagus, and rhubarb.

Shop End of Season Sales
As planting season winds down, many garden centers find themselves with lots of seeds left over. And since seeds are marked for a single growing season, they are forced to put them on sale. Lucky for us, most seeds stay viable for years longer than their original date, so shopping for next year is almost a no brainer. Websites also use sales to clear out their slower selling stock. Check out the ongoing Seed Sale at Park Seed, Co. for great prices on excess inventory, many as low as 75 cents a pack. Not only will you get a great bargain, you’ll have your seed shopping done well ahead of next year’s planting time.