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3 of the Best Winter Crops – Onions, Garlic, and Cabbage

cabbage

Cabbage is a great winter vegetable.

This article will give you an overview for 3 of the best winter crops – onions, garlic, and cabbage.

In the past I always assumed that my garden would just lay dormant in the winter. After all, what produce really grows in the winter? But, I was wrong.

There are actually quite a few varieties of plants that can be planted in the fall to be harvested in the winter or early the next season. Before planting in the fall, be sure to amend the soil to make sure that you have plenty of nutrients for the winter crops to thrive on (for a soil amendment recipe, see tip 3 of this article: 3 Tips on How to Prep for the New Growing Season). One other thing is that these plants grow best in areas that have a mild winter – meaning that there are nights that might get below freezing but not severe freezing for weeks and weeks at a time.

So, what are 3 of the best crops to grow over the winter? Here they are:

1. Onions

Onions are a perfect winter crop because they take very little effort to plant and maintain. Simply plant the onion in the amended soil so that the bulb is covered (about 1-2 inches deep). You can plant onions even as late as October or early November depending on the weather. Once you have planted the onions, cover the soil with mulch. This will help to keep the soil moist and slightly warmer. Water the plants a couple times per week if the soil is dry in your area and until the first freeze. Then, just leave the onions for the entire winter. In the spring, you can harvest the green part of the onion to use in soups and other dishes. Once the tops turn brown, your onions are ready for harvest.

2. Garlic

Garlic is also an easy plant to grow in the winter. You can even just buy a large garlic from the store and break each of the little cloves a part (called “cracking”). The larger each of the individual cloves, the bigger the garlic will be when harvested. Each clove will  become a whole garlic for the harvest the next summer. When planting, it is important to plant the bottom of the clove down and the top facing up. You can plant garlic in October or November depending on the weather in your area (you will need to plant garlic 3 weeks before the first hard freeze). Plant at a depth of about 2 inches below the surface and then cover with mulch.

3. Cabbage

Cabbage is a plant that will grow and be ready for harvest in the winter. In order to do this, you will need to plant the cabbage from seed in late Spring, or you can buy starts in the late summer or early fall from your local nursery. Make sure your soil has lots of nutrients. The Savoy Cabbage is among the hardiest of the cabbages and is a perfect one to grow in the winter. When the cabbage looks big enough and the head feels firm, you can harvest it in the middle or late winter.

There you have it. There are lots of other plants that can grow in the winter. If you don’t want to grow produce in the winter, then try growing a cover crop. Cover crops help put nutrients back into the soil for the next growing season and they help with weed control. Check out this article to find out more about cover crops: Cover Crops.

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How to grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant

This article will show you how to grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant by grafting a tomato plant onto a potato plant. As summer slowly rolls to an end, we often find ourselves with an abundance of tomatos.  Many of the fruit remains green and not fully ripened.  I typically find myself asking, “What can I do different next year to get more fruit for my effort?”

 

It turns out there is an answer:  grafting tomato plants to potatoes.

How to grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant

Grafted Plant Diagram (click image to see image source)

Over the centuries, smart gardeners and farmers have developed successful methods to use potato root stock to support tomatoes that may not otherwise be well suited to poor soil conditions in your garden.

 

This is a great way to save space in your garden!  You can start your potatoes early in the growing season to let them mature.  Leave some of the potato plants in place and perform the following grafting process to give your tomato plants a head start!

 

The process:

  1. Taking the potato plant (called the “stock”) cut the stem about 1-inch above the ground and split the stem in a V-shape.
  2. At the tomato plant (called a “scion”), cut the stem with at least 6 to 8 inches of length with a straight across cut.  I recommend choosing a tomato plant that has a stem roughly the same diameter as the potato plant rootstock.
  3. Shape the cut end of the tomato plant to a wedge shape so that it will fit into the potato plant stem’s V-shape cut.
  4. Carefully slide the tomato plant stem onto the potato rootstock.
  5. Wrap the graft location with grafting tape in order to hold the two plants together.
  6. The grafting tape needs to remain in place until the tomato plant begins to show new growth.

 

Here is an illustration of the grafting steps described above:

How to grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant

Grafting Scion Section to Stock (click image to see image source)

Why does this grafting process work?  Tomato plants and potato plants are part of the family of plants called “nightshades”.  Both plants contain alkaloids that help protect the plants from insects (they can even be used to make an organic liquid pest control solution for aphids: Organic Aphid Control)

 

A point of caution, grafting can potentially affect the flavor of the tomato fruit.  Also, grafted plants may yield less fruit than two separate plants grown from seeds.  On the other hand, a major benefit is the grafting process will save you a lot of time and space!

How to grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant

Tomato-Potato Graft Plant Starts (click image to see image source)

If you end up trying this next year, or plant to grow potatoes in general, we have the perfect garden box for potatoes (and for lots of other things too). We call it TogetherFarm Blocks. This is a modular garden box system made from 100% recycled, food-grade plastic that can be put together in any shape or size. Because it is modular, it is perfect for growing potatoes and tomatoes. Tomatoes will send out roots at any point that the stem is below the  surface of the soil. So, as the plant grows, you can add additional layers onto your modular garden box to give the plant even more strength and fruitfulness. With the potatoes, TogetherFarm Blocks makes it simple at harvest time. Simply pull apart the blocks to be able to get to all the potatoes underground. So cool! We are currently in the last few days of a Kickstarter Campaign to get these blocks to market. If you pledge now, we will ship you a kit at the end of January of next year – just in time for next year’s growing season. Here is a link to TogetherFarm Blocks on Kickstarter as well as a picture of an assembled box. Help us reach our goal and get incredible rewards. Pledge now!

 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/togetherfarm/turning-plastic-into-produce-togetherfarm-blocks

How to grow tomatoes and potatoes on one plant

TogetherFarm Blocks – an eco-friendly and easy way to build a garden box

 

Happy Gardening,

Matt and the TogetherFarm Produce Evangelists

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Where Does Food Come From?

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad

Where does food come from before it gets to the grocery store?  The USDA has strict country of origin labeling (COOL) laws that, “requires retailers … notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods.” Effective as of 2005, the law covers just about anything edible including: muscle cut and ground meats (beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken); wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng. Yes, ginseng made the list and is specifically called out.

Cut the tomato off the vine with about an inch of the stem still attached. This helps the tomato ripen better.

Home grown tomato

Although the law covers country of origin, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to tell where within the country the food came from, the conditions in which it was raised, or the handling of that food from origin to table. This is just one of many factors that have fueled local food movements.

The microclimate in your area can affect what grows best in your yard.

The microclimate in your area can affect what grows best in your yard.

If you are interested in learning more, FoodRoutes.org is a great place to start. They point out that in addition to exceptional taste and freshness, buying locally strengthens your local economy, supports endangered family farms, safeguard your family’s health, and protects the environment. And don’t forget the experience factor. Whether you are checking out local farms or growing your own food, you’ll have these memories for a lifetime.

If you want to know where your produce comes from, one of the best ways is to grow it yourself.  Check out our Kickstarter Campaign, where we are raising funds to bring our very first product, TogetherFarm Blocks™, to you.  If you have a small space you can use these blocks to quickly build a custom garden box without tools or carpentry experience.  Check them out!

grow your own produce

Grow your own produce!

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How to choose what type of wood to use for a garden box

How to choose what type of wood to use for a garden box

Juniper is one of the most durable natural garden box materials you can use.

There are a lot of different types of material you can use for creating a raised garden bed. Some work quite well, others have the potential of releasing toxins into the soil (pressure treated wood, aluminum, tires, certain plastics, etc). I have 3 types of wood that I have used to build garden boxes out of, all 3 of these are completely toxin free, but each has other pros and cons and differences in durability.

How to choose what type of wood to use for a garden box

My Douglas Fir garden boxes have started deteriorating after 5 years.

1. Douglas Fir – this is an inexpensive type of wood to use for building a garden box. It is easy to work with and easy to find. However, Douglas Fir only lasts about 4-6 years before it starts breaking down. This is what most of my garden boxes are made out of (since I am sometimes cheap) and after about 5 years, they are really starting to fall apart.

2. Cedar – this is a classic material for garden boxes. It comes at a price though. It is typically 3 times the cost of Douglas Fir but it will also potentially last 3 times longer (10-15 years). Cedar is a beautiful wood and so you benefit from the aesthetics of it as well. It also smells good.

3. Juniper – this type of wood is by far the best I have seen for building a garden box. It looks beautiful and will outlast most of its owners. In fact, Oregon State University conducted a study starting in 1928 on untreated wood and its longevity in contact with soil. The Juniper post is still standing to this day! So, if you build a garden box out of Juniper boards, it may be the last time you ever need to build a garden box. The one downside of Juniper is that it is hard to come by although, it costs relatively the same as cedar. Check your local suppliers to see if they carry Juniper and what the local cost might be. Here is a place in the Portland area where you can get Juniper: NW Sustainable Building Products

Although wood is a great material for building garden beds, it can be hard to haul, measure, cut, and assemble. So, we at TogetherFarm came up with an innovative idea – TogetherFarm Blocks. This is a fantastic alternative to traditional garden box materials, is made out of 100% recycled materials, and can be assembled without any tools required. It is modular meaning that it can be built in any shape or size that you want. We are currently in the middle of a Kickstarter Campaign taking preorders in order to raise enough money to get the blocks to market. Check out the Kickstarter page here:  TogetherFarm Kickstarter Campaign

Let us know if you have discovered other materials that are safe and durable for your raised garden beds. Here is a great tutorial on how to build a raised garden bed: Raised Bed Building

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