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You asked for it, so we added it: Vertical Gardening!

It doesn’t take a lot of space to have a great garden. You can grow more than you think, even if you have a small area to work with. You just have to be careful choosing your plants and creative in how you grow them. Urban gardeners have perfected the techniques of vertical gardening, growing nearly everything in a postage stamp sized garden just by training the plants to grow up.

Many of our fans have already incorporated vertical gardening techniques into their gardens, and have been begging us to add the ability to change their garden layouts to reflect that. We’re happy to announce that we’ve partnered with Storey Publishing to bring you this exclusive Smart Add On featuring Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Vertical Vegetables & Fruits.

For only $4.99, you will be able to access all this:

  • Additional Guide chapter all about Vertical Gardening
  • Plant Guides with Vertical Gardening instructions
  • 10 Signature Gardens to give you inspiration
  • How-tos for building your own Vertical Garden structures

 
Even if you’re new to vertical gardening, this Add On will guide you through the steps, help you choose the best vertical growing options for each plant, automatically adjust the spacing, and assist in planning your plant placement in your garden by height so everything gets the best exposure.

What’s Included
Informative Content: Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Vertical Vegetables & Fruit will appear as part of your garden Guide for easy access to information about growing vertical.

Guide: The Vertical Vegetables & Fruit section is chock full of informations including the benefits of vertical gardening techniques, an explanation of the different types of structures used, and which plants are best suited to vertical gardening.

Picking a Growing Approach: Under the “Plants in this Garden” tab, you can pick a specific footprint to match how you want to grow your plants vertically.

Your Vegetables: All vegetables in your garden that can be grown vertically will be automatically adjusted to their new spacing and a new grid will be created.

Plant Guide: Each Plant Guide, for plants that can be grown vertically, offers up suggestions and images for the best support for that particular plant.

Signature Vertical Gardens: Get exclusive access to 10 beautifully designed, inspirational Gardens that take advantage of vertical techniques and methods.

Announcing our new Smart Add On: Vertical Vegetable and Fruit -- Great vertical gardening tips and information!SmartGardener and Storey Publishing — a perfect match!
For 25 years, Storey Publishing has helped millions of independent readers enjoy simpler, more satisfying lives. Through an array of how-to books, Storey arms readers with practical skills and inspiration on a range of do-it-yourself topics: gardening, cooking, knitting and other crafts, backyard building, animal care, farming, and home improvement.

Readers turn to Storey for accurate, time-tested knowledge on topics from preserving garden-fresh produce to crate-training a dog. Whatever the subject — natural body care recipes, green thumb tips, inspired color choices for hand-knit projects, ways to raise healthy backyard chickens, or ideas for turning kitchen scraps into stunning houseplants — Storey provides the information that fuels readers’ passions.

Storey is at the center of a vast revival of do-it-yourself lifestyles, a movement that has been fueled by an awareness of environmental responsibility, an appetite for the homegrown and locally raised, an appreciation for one-of-a-kind items, and a passion for nature. Whether picking up a needle and thread for the first time, or nurturing a decades-old passion for horses, readers know that they can turn to Storey for no-nonsense advice and new ideas — every time.

Savory Blueberry Basil Salmon

Savory Blueberry Basil Sauce

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

I just can’t get enough blueberries this season. I’ve been eating them in muffins, pancakes, and scones. They’ve found their way onto my morning cereal, and even into a couple of salads for lunch. And, of course, lots of them are going over ice cream.

I’ve also been trying them in other recipes. Recently, I made a delicious savory sauce to go over grilled salmon. I came up with the idea based off my go-to salmon glaze recipe made with limes and soy sauce. I tweaked it a bit to emphasize the sweetness of the blueberries, and added some basil for a delicious surprise. It’s also quite good over chicken, and even pork.

Savory Blueberry Basil Sauce
1/2 pint (about 6 ounces) of fresh blueberries
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon oil

1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan. I used bacon grease, as that’s what I do most of my sautéing in, but you can easily use olive oil or butter. When the oil is hot, add onions and garlic and sauté over medium for a few minutes, until they have softened.

2. Add balsamic vinegar and chopped basil. If you berries are a bit tart, you can add brown sugar or honey. I taste the berries before I start cooking, to see how sweet they are, and decide how much, if any, sugar to use. I also taste the sauce again while it’s cooking, to be sure. Heat over medium until the liquid begins to thicken and bubble.

3. Add the blueberries and stir to mix well. Continue to heat mixture over medium. The berries will pop and release their juice. When it begins to thicken again, it’s ready to go over your salmon.

Blueberries and Lavender

Blueberry Lavender Scones

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

Blueberries and lavender are almost perfect partners. The sweet, juicy blueberries pair nicely with the pine-y, spicy flavor of lavender. And they both are in season at the same time, which makes it easy to come up with lots of delicious recipes.

Taking a look at our Pinterest wall, one of the most popular pins going around is a recipe for a refreshing blueberry lavender spritzer cocktail, which looks like a refreshing drink for a hot day. Another popular recipe making the rounds is for blueberry lavender ice cream, which looks sweet and rich.

While I have enjoyed the lavender cocktails and ice cream I’ve tried, I thought a blueberry lavender combination would be perfect for a cream scone. Mother Nature has cooperated, as the weather here in Northern California has been a bit cool and gray — perfect baking weather. I took my favorite scone recipe (loosely based on the Smitten Kitchen scone recipe) and added fresh blueberries and fresh lavender. You can substitute frozen berries and dried lavender quite easily. Just reduce the amount of lavender to about 2 teaspoons or so. Keep in mind that lavender, like rosemary, has quite a strong flavor, and less is often better. These scones are so light and flakey, with big, sweet berries, and just the right hint of lavender. They’re perfect with a cup of Ceylon tea.

Blueberry Lavender Cream Scones
2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds
4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup cream
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
sugar

1. Mix dry ingredients, including lavender. If you’re using a food processor, this should be a quick 8 or 10 pulses. I like to get the lavender buds a bit broken up, to keep from eating a whole bud while eating. If you are using unsalted butter, add the full 1/2 teaspoon. If you are using salted butter, reduce the amount to 1/4 teaspoon.

2. Add the chilled butter in small cubes so that they’re evenly distributed in the dry mixture. If you’re using a food processor, remove the lid and place them evenly around the blade. Pulse the mixture 10 or 15 times, until the mixture resembles course meal. Don’t over mix, or you run the risk of melting the butter. Transfer to a large bowl. If you’re mixing by hand, use two knives or a pastry knife to blend the butter in evenly.

3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream, gently stirring it in, making sure to scrape the sides often. Once the mixture starts to come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently knead it only until the liquid is evenly distributed. Don’t over-knead, or you risk melting the butter and activating the wheat gluten. Both are disastrous to flakey scones.

4. Flatten the dough and pour the blueberries into a small mound in the center. Turn the sides of the dough up around the blueberries, trying to cover as many blueberries as possible. Gently work the dough around the berries, picking it up and turning it as necessary. Three or four turns should be enough to have worked the berries in evenly.

5. Place the dough in a greased round cake pan and evenly spread it to fill the whole pan. Chill the pan in the freezer for up to 1 hour. This will help keep the butter cool.

6. Cut the dough into 6 or 8 portions, and remove each from the pan using a knife or cake server to keep it from sticking. Place scones on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Mix together the egg and milk and brush on the tops. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 425° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tops start to color.

7. Allow the scones to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm for a delicious treat. Store remaining scones in an airtight container for up to three days, or freeze immediately.

Grilled Zucchini - grilled_small

Grilled Zucchini with garlic-infused olive oil

Zucchini is probably the most common, and most often maligned, of the summer squashes. In some parts of the country it’s said that in late summer, neighbor turns on neighbor when the zucchini ripens. Garrison Keillor once joked that in August, the normally trusting citizens of Lake Wobegone would lock their car doors when they went to church on Sunday, to prevent some dastardly gardener from loading up their car with bags of zucchini. And we all laugh, because we know there’s some truth to that. After all, there’s a reason there’s a National Sneak Some Zucchini on your Neighbor’s Porch day, right? (In case you’re wondering, it’s August 8.)

But zucchini isn’t really as bad as all that. Sure, they’ll grow to an almost ridiculous size if you leave them on the vine long enough. But harvested when they’re still quite small, they’re very easy to deal with. And they cook up very quickly at this size. Since we usually grill our way through the summer so we can enjoy as much outside time as possible, my favorite method for cooking these small zucchinis is to coat them with a little garlic-infused olive oil and grill them.

Grilled Zucchini with Garlic-Infused Olive Oil
2-4 small to medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Mix the olive oil and garlic in a small sauce pan and heat over medium for about 20 minutes.

2. Place zucchini slices in a shallow dish and brush each slice with the  oil mixture. Allow the coated slices to sit for about 20 minutes, while the grill heats.

3. Once the grill is hot, place the slices on the hot grill and brush with the remaining oil mixture, making sure they’re covered evenly. Cook for about 15 minutes on medium heat, or until they are the desired texture. We like ours a bit toothy, so we take them up just as soon as they have good grill marks.

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Attracting beneficial insects

Beneficial predatory insects are an important element of an organic pest control strategy. Unless you have a serious problems, if they are living in your garden they will help to control pests without you having to do anything. While some insects, like ladybugs, can be purchased and released in your garden, you don’t really have to work at attracting beneficial insects, just provide the simple things they need and they will come.

Food
One of their requirements is a source of food, which mainly means lots of small nectar and pollen producing flowers (many beneficial insects are very small and have difficulty feeding from larger flowers). Plants of the carrot (Apiaceae), daisy (Asteraceae) and mint (Lamiaceae) families are all particularly good. This is why the herb garden is always alive with insects and is another good reason for planting many of these plants. Many weeds are good sources of food too. Highly bred garden cultivars aren’t very useful because they are often sterile and don’t produce much nectar or pollen.

Habitat
The other important need is for a diversity of undisturbed habitat, which gives them a place of refuge from predators and a suitable place to survive the winter (they won’t survive in the ever changing annual vegetable garden, which is often bare in winter). This can be a simple border, with a diversity of perennials and shrubs to give them a place to live.

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Keep your berries healthy all summer

Berry plants tend to be fairly low maintenance plants, put them in the right place, keep them watered and they will grow stronger, bigger and more productive every year (until they threaten to fill your whole garden and you have to start restricting them). Even so, there are a couple of things you can do to help your plants and increase the harvest for years to come.

In most places the most important thing you need to do for your berry plants is protect them from birds. Birds love berries just as much as you do (after all, berries were created to be eaten by birds as a way of transporting the seed). If given the opportunity they will strip the bushes of every edible fruit. You could try various ways to scare them away — shiny tape, inflatable predators, scarecrows — but birds will soon figure out that these aren’t a problem, so they don’t usually work for long. The only foolproof way to foil the birds is by carefully covering the plants with netting (this has to be done thoroughly because they will look for any openings). Applying and removing netting is a real pain because it snags on everything it touches (be careful it doesn’t tear) and is one of the few garden jobs I really dislike. If you have to do this every year, you might think about putting your berries inside a permanent fruit cage (the simplest of these is made from PVC pipe).

The other important maintenance activity is removing old stems to encourage vigorous new fruiting growth. Blackberry and raspberry canes usually die after their second year and can create a dense thicket if not removed (these can be removed after they have finished fruiting). Blueberries and currants fruit more vigorously on younger wood, so every year some older ones are removed to encourage new growth.

To keep the plants growing as vigorously as possible, you also need to keep them well watered. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. If the plants are bearing heavily then some fertilization may also be needed to keep them producing well. The best way to do this is to apply some mulch, which will also keep down weeds and conserve moisture. Just be sure to use an acidic mulch such as pine needles for blueberries, since they need a bit more acid.

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Gardening in extreme heat

This year has brought record high temperatures to much of the country (again, but don’t worry, Exxon says this has nothing to do with global warming), so I wanted to say something about keeping your vegetables garden happy when the mercury soars.

Pick the right plants
High temperatures don’t just make plants uncomfortable, they can actually stop them growing and seriously affect productivity. When it gets too hot we can simply stay in the shade, or go into the house, but plants are stuck in the full sun and have to deal with it. Your choice of variety is also significant as some are more heat tolerant than others. Look for those that were developed for the tropics, desert or southern states, as many of these plants have developed several mechanisms for coping with heat stress and these are the most reliable plants to grow in hot weather. They include cowpea, okra, melon, pepper, tomato, sweet potato, lima bean, watermelon, and amaranth.

But even heat-tolerant fruiting crops (beans, tomato, eggplant, pepper, okra) can have problems when it gets much above 90 degrees Fahrenheit because flowers may not pollinate and will drop instead of setting fruit (plant breeders are working on heat resistant varieties that don’t do this).

Water them well
Just as it is essential for humans to drink plenty of water during hot weather, so it is with plants. Your first priority should be ensuring they get enough water, as this will help them to keep growing and producing (without it they are toast). The best way to water in hot weather is with a drip system, such as in-line drip irrigation tubing or soaker hose, which allows the water to quickly soak in to the ground. Overhead sprinklers aren’t as good because a lot of the water will often simply evaporate in the heat. If you must use sprinklers then avoid watering in the middle of the day, do it in the cool of early morning or early evening (early enough that plants don’t stay wet all night). Water is especially critical when plants are sizing up fruit and blossom end rot is often a problem if watering is irregular.

Mulch to keep them cool
Bare soil dries out quickly when exposed to the fierce heat of the sun, so it is also important to keep it covered as much as possible (there is no point in supplying water and then watching much of it evaporate). The most convenient mulch is a 2 to 4” layer of straw, which is readily available at feed stores. Mulch also keeps the soil cooler by shading it from the heat of the sun (plants can cope much better if their roots are cool). It also prevents the growth of competing annual weeds.

Give them some shade
In extremely hot conditions strong sunlight can be a problem because it raises temperatures even further. In such situations plants may benefit from some kind of shade during the hottest part of the day. This could be provided by shade cloth over hoops, or some kind of wooden framework covered with trellis, or even sticks (to create dappled shade). You can also create shade by planting tall plants such as sunflower or corn, but of course these require water too.

Help them recover quickly
Many plants (especially those with big leaves) wilt naturally in the heat of the day to reduce moisture loss, but they recover quickly when it cools down. If plants don’t recover quickly when the temperature drops, they are severely stressed and need water. Prolonged water stress is easily identifiable because leaves (and sometimes fruit) become bleached or scorched and growth is slower.

Take care of the gardener
It is also important to think about yourself in hot weather. Drink plenty of water and keep out of the garden during the hottest part of the day (also wear a hat). If you are an early riser the best time to be in the garden is when the sun first comes up, it is so beautiful and peaceful. I tend to come to life in the evening and get most of my work done in the couple of hours before the sun sets.

Tips for watering your garden.

Essentials of watering

While the rest of the country has been under severe heat warnings and drought conditions, summer has finally arrived for us in California, and in my garden we have already passed the point where the vegetables can get enough moisture from the soil. Until the rains start again in late October it is up to me to supply enough water to keep them alive. This is the most important summer gardening activity and if it isn’t done properly there won’t be much of a vegetable garden.

There are four important steps to keep in mind when watering to get the most benefit:

Watch your plants
If you know what to look for it is easy to tell when plants are suffering from lack of water. The first sign is that they lose the sheen on their leaves and start to sag slightly instead of standing rigidly upright. It is important to water immediately when you see this happening, as further stress will slow their growth. More extreme signs of water stress include curling leaves, floppy growing tips and dying leaves, all of which means the plant is severely distressed and has stopped growing.

Simple wilting of leaves isn’t always a sign of stress however. Many plants (especially those with large leaves such as squash and cucumber) do it intentionally in hot sunny weather as a means of reducing water loss. They recover quickly when the temperature drops though, whereas water stressed plants recover more slowly. This is why you should check plants for water stress in the cool of early morning or evening and not in the midday heat.

Sunflowers are particularly prone to water stress (they wilt before almost anything else) and can be used as a living indicator of when the soil is starting to get dry. Simply plant a few sunflowers in your garden bed and when they show signs of wilting, it is time to water the entire bed.

How much water to apply
The usual rule of thumb says you should give your plants 1″ of water per week in summer and about ½” in spring and fall. An inch of water means ⅔ gallon per square foot, or 66 gallons per 100 square feet and should be enough to penetrate 6″ to 12″ into the ground.

Though 1″ per week is a reasonable average to start with, it is only a guideline and will be altered by temperature, humidity, soil type, crop and more. You have to look at the plants and the soil to determine if you are watering enough and adjust accordingly. After watering the soil should be evenly moist all the way down. Probably the commonest mistake of beginner gardeners is to water only until the soil surface looks nice and wet and then move on. Appearances can be deceiving though and only an inch or so down the soil may still be completely dry. If your plants are wilting again within 24 hours you didn’t give them enough water.

Time of day to water
In hot weather you should avoid watering in the middle of the day, because any water that lands on the leaves, or the soil surface, will quickly evaporate and be wasted. Water either in the morning, or early enough in the  evening so that wet leaves can dry out before nightfall.

How to apply water
Water should only be applied to the soil as fast as it can soak in. If you apply water faster than this it will puddle and the surface structure may break down. Water may also run off of the bed and be wasted (it may also take soil with it).

Potato Salad

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

Earlier this week, I visited my local farmstand and saw bins of cute little red and blue potatoes next to another bin of tiny little “regular” potatoes, and felt it was only appropriate to buy some to make red, white, and blue potato salad to take to the family BBQ. And, one of my favorite things about being friendly with the farmer is the ability to ask questions about the vegetables. Turns out, they grow the same potatoes we offer: All Blue, All Red, and Yukon Gold.

In this case, I not only got some info about the specific potatoes they grow, but got some good recipe advice! Like the advice to add some whole garlic cloves to the boiling potatoes, and to splash a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar on the potatoes while they’re cooling.

What I like about these potatoes are that the color goes all the way through. Not only do they have red or blue skins, but the flesh is red and blue as well. The color holds up during the cooking. And another great thing about using fresh potatoes is that the different flavors come through in the salad. This recipe, which is a variation on the suggestions made by my farmer-friend, really brings out the different flavors and colors!

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad
2 pounds potatoes – mixed
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 eggs, hard boiled, sliced
1/2 pound bacon, fried
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup minced celery
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
fresh thyme or dill

1. Clean and slice potatoes into small cubes, approximately 1/2″ in size. Place potatoes in large pot and cover with water. Add peeled garlic cloves. Bring water to boil and let bubble until potatoes are just fork-tender.

2. Remove potatoes from heat, drain and rinse with cold water until potatoes are only slightly warm. Move potatoes to large bowl and add apple cider vinegar, using a spoon to gently stir potatoes until they are all covered with vinegar. Cover and place in refrigerator to cool completely (at least 1 hour).

3. Hard boil eggs. Cool in ice water or refrigerator. Slice into small pieces. Set aside.

4. Fry bacon. Drain and cool. Chop into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces. Set aside.

5. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, relish, celery, and onion.

6. When potatoes are cool, stir in mayonnaise mixture until all potatoes are completely coated. Gently stir in eggs and bacon. Garnish with fresh thyme or dill.

 

We here at Smart Gardener want to wish you and yours a very happy Independence Day celebration. We hope it’s filled with good food and good fun!

Mexican Tarragon - beautiful and flavorful herb

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) is a beautiful addition to any herb garden. The leaves are often used as a tarragon substitute (hence the name), and the vibrant yellow flowers bloom well into late summer, and can perk up an otherwise drab landscape. The flowers are also known as Mexican Marigolds, and are an important symbol in the annual Día de los Muertos festivities, where they are placed on the graves of family members as ofrendas, or offerings. The flowers are often depicted in Huichol art, and are used to create a vibrant yellow dye.

The herb is a remedy of the Curanderos, who use it make a tea infusion for treating the common cold. It is also dried and burned as ceremonial incense, and as an insect repellant. But, most commonly, it is used as a spice — it has a flavor quite similar to tarragon, with a touch of anise. It adds a complimentary, savory flavor to eggs and other meat dishes.

As a plant, it is much more heat-tolerant than tarragon, and is often grown in its stead in warmer climates, where tarragon does not thrive.Although it is treated like an annual in regions with cold winters, it is really a half-hardy perennial in areas with warmer winters. The plant itself might die down, but will sprout back from the roots when the spring comes.

Mexican Tarragon is now available to add to your garden. You can find all of our available varieties by browsing under Herbs: