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Tag Archive: Vegetable

  1. Hugelkultur Layered Vegetable Gardens

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    Garlic, herbs and squash have been planted in this newly planted garden hugel. (Garden by Annalisa Vapaa)

    Looking to create truly sustainable vegetable gardens? Try a layered hugelkultur garden! These raised gardens layer in organic material to create deep reserves of truly rich soil for vegetables. They also allow gardeners to use yard waste, such as leaves, grass clippings, logs, and branches, for no-waste vegetable growing.


    Over time, hugel gardens naturally develop deep layers of organic-rich soil.

    Hugelkultur (meaning “hill culture” in German) is a European planting style that uses permaculture methods to create fertile planting beds rich in organic matter and microorganisms. Designed for food production, the raised “hugel” gardens rely on a base of hardwood logs, branches, compost, and topsoil which, as they slowly decompose, increase fertility and water retention.
    Hugels can be as small or large as desired and should be sited in sunny spot that’s flat and spacious. They can be built from reclaimed materials from your own property or a friend’s yard. This will help you save money and increase the garden’s sustainability. Here are the materials and directions for making one.


    1. Hardwood Logs (Decomposing logs hold more water and break down faster.)
    2. Trimmed Branches
    3. Grass Clippings, Leaves, or Leaf Mulch
    4. Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend
    5. Fafard Premium Topsoil
    6. Straw
    7. Vegetable and Herb starts


    Outline the Bed: Create the hugel base by lining up your hardwood logs. Place larger logs along the outside and smaller logs along the inside. (You can also dig out a furrow to deeply set your logs, but this is not necessary. Large logs can create substantial outer supports for hugel beds. Some hugels are even outlined with rocks, logs, or even woven willow wattle for extra support.)
    Layer in Branches and Smaller Logs: Line up smaller branches within the log frame—trim large or unwieldy branches for a tight fit. A 2-foot layer is recommended.
    Compress Branches: Press and stomp down branches to reduce air pockets.
    Layer in Leaves and/or Grass Clippings: Layer in your leaves, leaf mulch, and/or grass clippings, being sure to pack everything between the branch layers.
    Add Compost: Add in a thick layer of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Poke the compost down into any remaining pockets. Good soil-to-wood contact will help your branch layer break down faster.
    Add Topsoil: Add a final layer of Fafard Premium Topsoil and rake and shape your hugel to form an attractive mound. (Some hugelkulture guides recommend pyramidal hugel beds, but these are prone to erosion and difficult to plant. A rounded mound with a flatter top is better.)
    Water: Gently water in your hugel for at least an hour to allow moisture to seep deep down. This also encourages settling and will reveal any areas that might need extra topsoil. Let the hugel settle for a day or two before planting.
    Add Straw Layer and Plant: Cover the hugel with a 2- to 3-inch layer of straw, leaves or grass clippings to hold down the soil and reduce weeds. Simply move areas of straw aside to plant in your vegetables and herbs.
    Hugel beds will slowly break down over several years as the wood layers decompose, and as they break down, they will lose loft. Each year it helps to add a new layer of compost and straw to further enrich the beds and keep them weed free. In time, they will take on the appearance of more traditional bermed garden beds with the added benefit of very deep organic matter.

    Extra wood and rocks can be placed outside the hugel for added side support.


    Over time, hugels break down and take on the appearance of standard bermed beds.

  2. Seasonal Vichyssoise

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    VischyThere’s nothing like seasonal produce. In spring, garden-fresh spinach, tender snap peas, spring onions, and asparagus grace our tables. In fall, we can look forward to kale, arugula, and Swiss chard. One easy, tasty way to make use of an overload of seasonal vegetables is by making a pot of vegetable vichyssoise, a creamy potato and leek soup that originates from France. This delicate soup can be eaten hot or cold, so it’s perfect for warm or cool days. And, it’s so good that your friends will be asking for the recipe!


    1 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
    3 cups sliced leeks and/or onions
    3 cups coarsely chopped spinach, kale, chard, arugula, asparagus, or snap peas (strings removed)
    2.5 cups chopped peeled potatoes
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    1/2 cup half and half


    Chop and prepare all ingredients before beginning. In a large pot, add the butter and oil and heat until it begins to sizzle. Add the onions or leeks and cook until translucent and soft (7-10 minutes). Add the stock, chopped potatoes, veggies, salt, and pepper and heat to a rolling boil then turn it down to medium-low heat. Simmer the soup for 25 to 30 minutes then remove from the heat and cool for another 30 minutes. Add the soup to a blender or food processor and mix until smooth, and then add the half and half.
    This soup tastes delicious with a drizzle of hot sauce and looks pretty garnished with fresh herbs from the garden.

  3. Organic Cucumber Growing

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    Cucumis sativus

    Pickling cucumbers should be picked when they are very small and crisp.

    Cucumbers have their fair share of pests and diseases, but growing them organically is not too difficult if you choose the right variety for your area and give them the right care. Experience is the best teacher.

    When I first began growing cucumbers, it was a challenge. I failed to amend the soil properly, feed and water them enough early on, and then they developed a bad case of powdery mildew. Cucumber beetles, and the diseases they vector, were also a problem. My plants yielded only a few small fruits. That was about 20+ years ago. Since that unproductive season, I’ve mastered growing these  fast-growing annual vines – and you can, too! The great thing about cukes is once they’re happy, they produce like gangbusters! Before you know it, it’ll be time to break out the tzatziki and pickle recipes and find friends willing to take a few off your hands.

    Cucumis sativus 2

    Trellising creates more space for cucumber growing.

    Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are frost-tender, warm-weather vegetables; which means they grow when days and nights are relatively warm and the sun is at its brightest. They tend to sprawl but can be trained to grow on a support to save space and make harvesting easier.

    The vines are lined with large, prickly, green leaves and produce two types of yellow, funnel-shaped flowers, male and female. The pollen-producing male flowers bloom first, followed by the fruit-producing female flowers. Female blooms are easily identified by their elongated, bulbous ovaries at the base, which are destined to become cucumbers. The flowers are pollinated by bees, so smile when these productive insects visit your plants, and refrain from using broad-spectrum, non-organic pesticides that will kill them. (Look out for the small, native squash bees that like to visit cucumber vines!)

    Cucumber size, shape and color depend on the type of plant you grow. No matter what variety you choose, proper site selection and good soil preparation can make or break your cuke-growing success.

    Cucumber Types

    Lots of cucumber types exist. Americans are most familiar with slicing cucumbers, which tend to be large, broad, and thick skinned when mature and have tougher, bigger seeds. In contrast, thin-skinned Asian cucumbers are long, straight and small-seeded as are English types. Pickling cucumbers, which include gherkins, have a pleasing shape when young, dense flesh and are picked immature, when they are most crisp.

    Cucumis sativus Slicemaste

    ‘Slicemaster’ is a common American slicer that’s easy and prolific.

    Several varieties are better adapted to hotter, drier growing conditions. These include lemon, or dosakai, cucumbers, which are almost completely round, yellow-skinned, and originate from India. Israeli Beit Alpha cucumbers are smaller, seedless (parthenocarpic), sweet-tasting, and well-adapted to dry climates. ‘Socrates’ is a larger Beit Alpha cultivar worth growing.  Another favorite, heat-tolerant “cucumber” is the curved, thin-skinned Armenian cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), which is technically not a cucumber but a melon (Cucumis melo) variety.

    Growing Cucumbers

    Full sun is essential for good growth and fruit production, so choose a planting location that’s open and sunny. Deep, friable, well-drained soil high in organic matter yields the best crops. The best rule of thumb is to dig and work up the soil to a depth of a foot or more, then amend liberally with good compost. The more room your plants’ roots have to develop, the healthier the plants. If your garden is at a low topography, create raised berms to plant your cucumbers. Enrich the berms with OMRI Listed Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Garden Manure Blend for best performance. (Generally, I start my seeds outdoors in 4-inch pots and plant them once they’ve reached 3 inches long and the threat of frost has past. Other home gardeners may opt to direct-sow the seeds following packet directions.)

    Feeding and watering cucumber vines are simple tasks: Just apply good organic fertilizer (like Black Gold® Tomato & Vegetable Fertilizer) early in the season and make sure established vines get a deep application of water twice a week (by rain or hose). The next consideration is deciding whether or not to trellis your plants.

    Cucumis sativus Lemon

    ‘Lemon’ is a popular Dosakai cucumber that tastes best when picked before the round fruits turn lemon yellow.

    Trellising Cucumbers

    Trellising has lots of advantages: It saves space, makes harvesting easier and encourages airflow, which discourages foliar diseases. Some standard trellis types are vertical ladder trellises, bentwood or teepee trellises. Trellis-grown cukes will be straighter than ground-grown. If you don’t mind your vines on the ground, be sure to pad the ground with hay or straw. This will keep your cucumbers clean and discourage rot, as well as keep weeds down. If you don’t have a lot of gardening space, you can grow dwarf cucumber varieties in large containers.

    Cucumber Pests and Diseases

    There are a few cucumber pests and diseases to be mindful of. Striped and spotted cucumber beetles are the worst of them. Both pests are elongated, around ¼ an inch long and have beaded antennae. Striped cucumber beetles have bands of yellow and black stripes, and the spotted ones are tannish-yellow and are typically marked with 12 black spots. Both chew on the leaves and vector a nasty bacterial wilt disease that Garden Manure Blendcan kill vines. The best means of defense is to use botanical insecticidal sprays like pyrethrum-based sprays, always carefully following label directions. (Planting disease-resistant strains, Like the small-fruited ‘H-19 Little Leaf’, is also helpful.) Begin to spray when the plants are young, and refrain from spraying when bees are actively pollinating the flowers. Squash bugs are another common pest that can be eradicated using this method. Aside from bacterial wilt, powdery mildew is the second most common disease of cucumber vines. (The organic fungicide, GreenCure®, clears up powdery mildew fast and is safe to use.)

    So, whether growing cucumbers for pickling or slicing, feel confident you can cultivate happy cucumbers this year. By fulfilling just a few smart steps, new gardeners can avoid a first-time cucumber catastrophe and enjoy a cornucopia crop instead!

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