Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Seasonal Family Garden Plan

One of the things I’m enjoying most about this year’s growing season is the opportunity to help others with their home gardens. Last week I had a chance to chat with a friend and former college roommate – Sara Heilig, about the garden that she and her husband Nick would like to grow this year. The garden is driven by three major factors: The family’s veggie preferences, their space and of course Assistant Gardeners – Emma and Hailey.

The Space

This raised bed is surrounded by chain link fence to the North and West and a custom gate on the other sides.

This raised bed is surrounded by chain link fence to the North and West and a custom gate on the other sides.

The Heiligs currently have an 8’ x 8’ raised garden bed in place. The bed is surrounded on two sides (North and West) with a 4’ high chain link fence and on the other sides with a custom-built gate. The sides of the bed are made of three landscape timbers stacked on top of each other. Also the bed was filled with commercially mixed garden soil about five years ago and has clay earth beneath it.

In addition to this 8’ x 8’ bed, the Heiligs are also planning to build a 4’ x 6’ cedar raised bed inspired by a picture Sara saw here.

Both beds get (or will get) excellent sun. While bunnies are a concern, there are no other potential critter problems (such as deer, raccoons or pets). Also, the 8’ x 8’ bed has a path of stepping stones running through it to allow Sara to harvest the hard-to-reach sections of the garden without compacting soil as she steps into the space. I don’t know exactly where those stones are, so please keep in mind that the plantings for this garden will need to be adjusted slightly to accommodate those stepping stones.

Because they have two distinct garden spaces, this seasonal family garden plan calls for planting each space for a different season. The larger garden will be planted now for spring and early summer veggies. The smaller garden will hold summer veggies. Meanwhile, since the early veggies will be gone by midsummer, the large garden will be replanted for a fall harvest. We’ll talk about this more in a minute, but crop rotation and well-planned companion planting are key to this second round of veggies.

Veggie Preferences

The Heiligs (especially the little ones) love snap peas and beans. This plan provides them with a whole heapin’ mess of beans and peas! They’re also fans of zucchini and would like to try summer squash. Sara is interested in canning or freezing tomato sauce this year so the plan also calls for some roma tomato plants. (Her father is a tomato connoisseur with tons of plants each year so there’s no need to plant slicing tomatoes.) Here are the other plants they’d like to grow:

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Summer Squash

I also threw pie pumpkins and cabbage into the mix as recommendations.

Spring Garden (8’ x 8’)

Spring Garden 2

The Spring garden (8’ x 8’ bed) features sugar snap peas (Sugar Ann) growing along the North and West side of the garden. Since peas grow on vines, they can be trained up the fence and no additional trellis is needed. Because the climbing peas are to the north and west, they shouldn’t block much sunlight. All the same, I designed the garden so that the sun-loving veggies are to the south (carrots, broccoli) and the veggies that can handle (and sometimes welcome) a little shade are planted to the north (spinach and lettuce). The wee bit of additional shade from the peas may even help the lettuce and spinach to last longer into the season before they bolt (grow a flower and become bitter tasting). The carrots are furthest south in this scheme because they are the shortest and that way their sun won’t be blocked by the taller broccoli plants.

Fortunately all of these cool-weather veggies play nicely together so companion planting is not a large concern. (There are no “bad” combinations to look out for.) Here are the varieties I selected for this garden:

  • Sugar Ann Snap Peas. This is a common garden pea that matures early.
  • Tom Thumb Lettuce. I just loved the idea of little girls being able to pick cute little lettuce heads from their own garden.
  • Rouge d’Hiver Lettuce. I was initially drawn to Rouge d’Hiver lettuce because of striking purple-red color, but reviews indicate that this variety is also very low maintenance and tolerant of a wide array of growing conditions.
  • Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach. This is a common variety of spinach that resists bolting and has a great taste.
  • Berlicum 2 Carrots. Just a good old fashioned orange carrot!
  • Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli. The majority of the broccoli is this Italian heirloom variety because reviews indicate that it is easier to grow than other varieties and produces earlier.
  • Waltham 29 Broccoli. This is the most common home-garden broccoli variety. Reviews indicated that this one grows well too.

      baker creek berlicum carrotbaker creek spinachBaker Creek Rouge d'Hiver Lettucebaker creek calabrese green sprouting broccolibaker creek waltham 29 broccoliBaker Creek Tom Thumb Lettuce

All of the veggies I’ve talked about so far have high yields per square foot. The exception is Broccoli on the other hand has low yields per square foot (only one plant). Because of that, and because this family loves it, I devoted the bulk of the garden to broccoli.

This plan calls for a lot of greens. If you wanted to add some variety, good choices would be beets (the baby greens are delicious!) arugula and chard.

Summer Garden (4’ x 6’)

Summer Garden

The summer garden is smaller and contains all heat-loving veggies. For the most part these guys play well together with one exception: Beans. Tomatoes and peppers don’t like beans so I designed the garden to keep them as far apart as possible. The end result was that I wasn’t able to plant very many beans (which, remember, the girls love) but don’t worry – we’ll make up for that in the Fall Garden.

Because there is no trellis here, the beans are bush beans. Using bush beans also helps to avoid a shade issue since these are all sun-loving plants. The tomatoes, however, will need some manner of trellis. Here are the varieties for the summer garden:

  • Golden Wax Beans. These are also a common garden vegetable with a creamy yellow flesh and a sweet taste.
  • Dragon Tongue Beans. I will grow these for the rest of my life. I love the flavor and they are so beautiful! For a family that loves fresh snap beans, this one is sure to be a winner.
  • Roma Tomatoes. These tomatoes are also known as paste tomatoes because they are great for sauces. We also like them for fresh eating.
  • Black Beauty Zucchini. A classic home garden zucchini plant. It’s a bush variety so no trellis is needed.
  • Crookneck Early Golden Summer Squash. Also a classic. Matures at the same time as the zucchini.

roma tomatoesbaker creek black beauty zucchiniBaker Creek Crookneck Early Godlen Summer Squashbaker creek california wonder pepper  baker creek dragon tongue bush beans   Baker Creek Golden Wax Bush Beans

If the Heiligs are feeling adventurous, they could try substituting Golden Zucchini for the traditional green variety.

Fall Garden (8’ x 8’)

Fall Garden

June doesn’t seem like the time to be thinking about fall. After all , the summer is just getting started! But by the middle to end of June, the sugar snap peas will be in decline and other veggies like lettuce and spinach will be on their way out too, depending on weather conditions. What a shame it would be to leave this 8’ x 8’ space laying fallow when there is still so much fair weather left to the year. Here’s the plan for making good use of that space to continue the harvest well into Fall!

Peas are legumes, and legumes are nitrogen fixers. That means they add nitrogen to the soil. We’re going to take advantage of that by planting a second crop of “heavy feeders” in the place where the peas used to be. (Heavy feeders are crops which “eat” large amounts of nutrients from the soil.) On the West side of the garden, we’ll plant cabbage. Cabbage might not sound like the most appetizing of garden vegetables, but trust me, you will LOVE the taste of homemade coleslaw from home-grown cabbage! Along the north we’re going to plant two cherry tomato plants and another zucchini plant. (The family loves zucchini and unfortunately I wasn’t able to squeeze as much into the Summer Garden as I wanted to.) There’s also an option to plant pie pumpkins or winter squash (such as acorn squash) here… or another zucchini plant. The nice thing about planting these on the North fence is that the climbers (tomatoes, pumpkins) have a built-in trellis and all of the shade issues I mentioned above apply again. Keep in mind that any large fruit (bigger than cantaloupes) will need slings to keep them from slipping the vines.

The placement of the cabbage and tomatoes is important. These guys don’t like each other, so we need to keep them as far apart as possible. Another tricky thing about this garden is that tomatoes also don’t like beans so we need to give them some distance.

However, remember that whole thing about “heavy feeders”? The broccoli that was in this garden in the Spring has “eaten” a lot of nutrients from the middle of the garden. A great way to replace those nutrients naturally is to plant legumes – like beans! Sweet, delicious, snap, bush beans. And tons of them! To keep the beans and tomatoes happy, I’ve placed two rows of carrots between them. With lettuce and spinach to the south of the garden, essentially now we’ve swapped the “root vegetable section” with the “leaf vegetable section.” That’s important because you should never succession plant (plant a second time in the same soil) crops from the same family (because they “eat” the same nutrients).

The varieties in the Fall Garden are the same as the Spring and Summer with a couple of additions:

  • Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage. Beautiful and delicious. What more could you ask for?
  • Tommy Toe Cherry Tomatoes. I grew these last year – they were my best tomatoes!
  • Tendergreen Bush Bean. These beans are supposed to be excellent for preserving – both canning and freezing. If the girls don’t eat them all before frost comes, there will be plenty to save for the winter.

Seed Savers Exchange Tommy Toe tendergreen bush beans Baker Creek Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage Baker Creek New England Sugar Pie

If garden success through the year brings on a desire to try some more “exotic” crops, here are some suggestions for alternatives:

  • Trade carrots for parsnips
  • Trade some carrots for turnips. Just a few – turnips have a very distinct, almost spicy flavor. The greens are also edible and I like them sautéed.
  • Trade some greens for kale or swiss chard.
  • Swap a cabbage or two for cauliflower.

Note: Many of the selections I made for this garden came from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. You can find the same or similar varieties from other companies like Hart’s, Seed Savers Exchange, Sustainable Seed Company, Victory Seeds or Annie’s Heirloom Seeds.

Challenges

The Heiligs’  garden has some other challenges to address. In the last few years, Sara’s gardens have produced wilty vegetables – or some things have not produced at all. After talking with her about the garden, it sounds like the space is just in need of a nutrient boost since the soil has never been amended in the last five years. Adding a layer (4” thick) of a combination of quality plant-based compost mixed with manure-based compost should do wonders. If necessary, a natural fertilizer like fish emulsion would help during the season. You can find other natural, organic fertilizers (as well as compost) at major home stores like Menards and Home Depot. Follow the directions on the packaging for success.

Basket Full of Strawberries

The garden also has a current, perennial occupant: Strawberries. Sara would like to keep the strawberries, however, they have only produced tiny, colorless berries the last couple of years and clearly need a boost. Once we give the strawberries a boost, they are aggressive enough that they may take over the whole garden! To combat both issues, this plan involves transplanting the berries into containers full of rich, organic soil (same compost mix as the main gardens). For more tips on successful container planting for strawberries, click here.

Another challenge is how to kill some resident grass that just won’t go away. A safe, natural, effective way to kill wayward grass in (or around) the garden is (drum roll) vinegar! The acetic acid in vinegar – especially as it interacts with sunlight – is able to destroy plants without unnatural chemicals. Because vinegar used for household purposes has a relatively low amount of acetic acid, boiling the vinegar in advance may help to concentrate the acid. Some people also say that you can use boiling water to kills weeds (I tried it and didn’t have success) so perhaps boiled vinegar has double the power? Either way, I recommend that Sara apply the vinegar before planting veggies as the vinegar will be just as harmful to desirable plants as it is to weeds and grass. It’s also recommended that the vinegar be applied on a sunny day.

And lastly, we need to talk about a garden pest: Cabbage worms. These guys stink. I ended up picking them off my broccoli by hand last year and it was a stinky way to spend my time. I found that they were also fans of non-cabbage-family things like leafy lettuce. This year I’m going to try placing nylons over my cabbage heads as a physical barrier to keeping the cabbage worms (and white moths that lay the eggs initially) off my cabbage. For more thoughts on keeping cabbage worms at bay, click here.

To download the complete Seasonal Family Garden plan (including info on varieties selected and where to buy them) click here.

 
 

Wish List Wednesday | Raised Garden Bed Ideas

Wish List Wednesday | Raised Garden Beds

Welcome to another Wish List Wednesday! On the third Wednesday of every month I’m sharing about all sorts of things I’d like to have, try or know more about. So far I’ve brought you lists on things from solar-powered garden gadgets to garden apps for your mobile device. To see all of my Wish List Wednesday posts so far, click here.

Today’s wish list is all about raised garden beds – various ways to build them, along with some snazzy accessories to make garden more enjoyable. I’m a big fan of raised beds. To learn more about the advantages of gardening in raised beds, read the Try Square Foot Gardening section of this article.

Raised Bed Ideas

Herb Spiral Made with 2 x 4?s

raised bed herb spiral

Use a Living Hedge

For those of us who grew up in the 80?s – LOOK – we can now have a grown-up cabbage patch!

living hedge

$10 Raised Beds – Made from Cedar!!

10 dollar cedar bed

Straw-Bale Raised Beds Have Unique Advantages

straw bale raised bed

We’ve got more! Click here to see 19 additional pictures of raised garden beds. Our collection includes unique, beautiful and practical solutions to get your creativity flowing!

 
 

Dye from Natural Causes

Straining natural blue dye through coffee filter

I heart food (and my belly shows it!). I hate food dye (and my baking shows it!).

Well, I don’t hate food dye – I hate artificial food dye. My distaste for Red 40 and other unnatural food colorings began when our son started having major issues with hyperactivity, attention deficit and unexplainable mood swings. His school was convinced he had A.D.D., needed to see a doctor and should be on medication. We were convinced that he was an energetic BOY with a very creative imagination… but agreed that he did have trouble following directions, often for no explainable reason because he knew what he should be doing and all signs pointed to the fact that he wanted to obey. While I concede that medication is a good choice in some situations, we much prefer to look for natural answers to issues before jumping for pills.

So we started doing some research… it didn’t take long before we discovered the link between artificial food dye/coloring and health problems in children, especially hyperactivity. Attention deficit and extreme mood swings were also in the list of symptoms.

According to www.cspinet.org “the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens [cancer causing substances], says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.”

We did an experiment – no artificial dye for the little guy for as long as possible and then we’d see what happened. What did we see? Several things! First, his ability to follow directions, pay attention and control himself was markedly improved after we cut artificial dye in his diet. Second, when he did eat artificial dye – even a relatively small amount – we could see a spike in problem behaviors. And lastly, we saw that artificial dyes are (expressly and sometimes covertly) in a significant number of things that simply don’t need coloring! (Marshmallows have blue dye, some ‘fresh’ tomatoes have red dye on them, meat sometimes has red dye to make it look fresh, etc.)

Angry Grocery Shopping

We quickly discovered how difficult it is to feed kids without giving them artificial color. I had recently become a label reader because of my concern and curiosity about what’s in the ‘food’ we eat. Now I do it religiously. Grocery shopping takes longer. It drives home the point for me of how important it is to produce the food my family eats. And to be honest, grocery shopping has evolved into a task that makes me angry. I love capitalism like most people love the Beatles (seriously) but I just can’t fathom how people working for corporations who put these chemical-ridden, processed health hazards with pictures of dinosaurs and princesses onto grocery shelves can sleep at night! It makes me mad that I have to scour the label to make sure I’m not poisoning my family – and that even after reading I can’t be 100% sure I know what’s in there. (Have you ever read the ingredients list for lunch meat? Yeah, I said ‘list’, as in five or six things other than just ‘turkey’.) Grrr…

Happy Frosting

Cupcake with red raspberry dyed frosting

This pink frosting is made using dye from red raspberries.

So there. Every two weeks when I go to the grocery store I get a little hot under the collar. But let’s move on to something a little more sunshiney-puppies-kittens-balloons-and-smiles-ish, shall we? I like to cook and bake so I haven’t minded that whenever Owen is invited to a birthday party, I have to bake some dye-free cupcakes for him to take along. (He doesn’t mind either – he’d rather eat a separate cake than deal with the affects of artificial dye on his behavior!) So far I’ve had a chance to experiment with different homemade cake mixes and frostings. (We especially like this frosting recipe – I substituted almond extract for the vanilla and it was delicious! We’ve had it with and without cocoa.) Once we used the chocolate frosting, otherwise it has been plain old white. Owen doesn’t seem to mind, but I think we would both enjoy a little color.

Owen was invited to a birthday party today, so today I whipped up some butter cream frosting along with natural food dye – red, purple, blue, and orange! Hooray!

Wouldn’t you like to try baking with natural food dyes? Not only are you avoiding chemical health risks, you’re also adding a teeny bit of nutritional value to what would otherwise be a delicious lump of creamy sugar! Scroll down for recipes and my thoughts on how they taste.

How to Store Natural Food Dye

But one quick note before we get to the recipes: Those tiny squeeze bottles of artificial dye sitting among your baking supplies don’t spoil or go bad. {Selah} Natural food dye won’t last a decade like the fake stuff. You’ll need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container (mason jar with a tightly closed lid?). I can’t say for sure how long it will last, but one article I read said it will go bad after two weeks. Signs that the coloring has gone bad are an odd odor or mold spores. If you want to refresh the coloring after one week has gone by, try bringing it to a boil for 30 seconds which would kill any mold spores but will likely deteriorate the color. Consider this your excuse to bake more sweets so you can use it all up in the two week window!

Another idea: Freeze the coloring in ice cube trays for on-demand, small quantities of color at a later time!

Pale purple forsting on cupcake

This pale purple frosting is made using dye from a red cabbage.

Natural Food Dye Recipes and Reviews

When using natural food dyes, substitute the dye for liquids used in your recipe. I’m currently working on developing some concentrated dye that can be used more like conventional dye and that is preserved with ascorbic acid or vodka for long-keeping. I’ll update you when I have those experiments figured out!

Natural Dye Recipe

2 cups chopped fruit or vegetables

1 cup of water (approximate)

* Add chopped fruit/vegetables to small saucepan

* Simmer on medium heat until desired color and consistency is reached

* Once fruit/vegetable is soft, mash with fork or potato masher to expel more color

* Strain mixture through coffee filter or cheesecloth into a glass container

* Clean saucepan; return strained juice to saucepan and boil down to further concentrate color

* Allow dye to cool before using

RED – RASPBERRIES

Taste: There’s definitely a raspberry taste to the frosting when using this dye. I’ve read that beets are the way to go when you want red dye with very minimal taste. However at the time of writing this post I decided to use only things I had on hand, including frozen raspberries. Perhaps I’ll go dig up some beets for a follow-up post.

PURPLE  – RED CABBAGE

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

BLUE – RED CABBAGE

* Follow same instructions but add small amounts of baking soda to the dye as it cools to obtain the desired color.

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

ORANGE – CARROTS

Taste: No carrot taste

GREEN – SPINACH

Haven’t had a chance to try this yet!

 
 
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