Transplanting, Instead of Culling, Makes Me a Much Happier Gardener

Ever had a hard time thinning or “culling” those extra seedlings that spring up from over-sowing or volunteering?  It’s very common, in my garden, to find seedlings that are way too tightly packed together.  Even though I know it is the absolute right thing to do, I can’t tell you how it pains me to remove these sweet little gems from my garden.

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The other day I was working in a bed of lettuce that I had sown a few weeks prior – one that I sowed an over-abundance of seed in to ensure better germination rates.  It was now time for the weeding and thinning to take place.

I like to let my seedlings grow a couple of sets of true leaves before starting the thinning process.  Crickets and grasshoppers around our homestead love those first little, tender leaves and often chew them right off, leaving nothing but the stem and roots, essentially killing the plant, but they don’t tend to bother them once they get larger.  So, rather than thin early and risk losing what’s left to these pests, I leave them to grow until they are large enough that the pests won’t bother them and then begin the thinning.

As I started the process of locating the lettuce among the weeds, to my happy surprise, I also noticed that there were a ton of carrot seedlings scattered about – no doubt from seeds that had dropped off and germinated earlier in the year  from a carrot plant that I’d let go to seed for the purpose of seed saving…

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If it were spring or summer, I’d thin any unwanted plants by gently pulling them up or cutting them off at the soil line and then toss them aside. But now that it’s fall, and the days are shorter, the weather is cooler, and the ground is staying saturated longer,  I’ve decided to try and salvage as many seedlings as possible.  I know it’s a risk with the carrots because transplanting can cause the roots to fork, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take to save these dainty little volunteers!

Digging up a clump of soil – plants, weeds, and all – I take care to pry the weeds away,  and then I gently divide the seedlings…

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Although I try not to disturb the roots, I find that in this cooler weather the plants don’t mind having their roots exposed as much.

Then, using a hand trowel,  I pry open up a small area of soil, slip the transplants into place (evenly spacing them out as I go), and give them a good watering to get them off to a good start in their new homes.

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What a joy it is to have a few more beds of lettuce and carrots growing, now.  It makes me very happy!

So, if you’re like me, and you absolutely can’t bear to sacrifice all of those perfect, albeit not so well placed, vegetable seedlings that you’ve sown or have volunteered, and if it’s the right time of year, you might just want to consider taking the time to transplant them into another area of the garden where they’ll have adequate space for proper growth, ensuring happier, healthier plants.  Knowing that you’ve save those little beauties, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot happier, too! 🙂

Designing With Lettuce

What’s the focus of this year’s garden?  Growing more greens.

Yet, it’s not just about growing more greens, it’s also about growing them in style!

This year, I’m approaching my garden as an artist, as well as a farmer.  That means I’m thinking just as much about design as I am about function and food production.

One of the areas I’m doing this in is my salad garden:  a raised bed of  mixed greens that I’ve planted  in triangular patterns.

The raised bed is six feet wide by fourteen feet long, and contains Summercrisp, Ben Shemen, and Jericho lettuces, as well as Erbette Chard and Asian Vitamin Greens.

To follow my lead in creating the patterns:  first, use grape stakes and wire fencing to outline the basic triangle shapes within the box (You can also plant peas or beans along the fence to help shade the lettuce and provide visual continuity when all of the lettuce is spent in the hotter days of summer).  Then, within each section  make two rows, in the shapes of consecutive triangles, for planting the seeds in.  (Each of the sections is intensively planted, leaving only about six inches in between the rows and three to four inches between the plants).  Sew the seed fairly heavily, and then thin when the seedlings reach the height of about two inches.  Alternatively, you can use seed tape, or ready-to-go transplants.  For added color and interest, you may want to plant something different in the center of each of the triangles – a specimen flower, or other vegetable.  Each of my sections  contains one Tete Noir Cabbage.

The lettuce is ready to harvest in just a few weeks, and, once harvested, can be  cleared out so that another masterpiece can follow in it’s footsteps — that is, if you can bring yourself to harvest it!

If you want the best of both worlds:  art and food, then I suggest you choose the “looseleaf”, or “cos” types of lettuce, as I have, that way you can remove just a few leaves at a time, with minimal damage to the overall look,  rather than the “head” types, where you’ll be forced to harvest entire plants all at once, creating gaps in the landscape.

I think lettuce is such a fun medium to work with when creating garden “art”, don’t you?  It sprouts and fills in quickly, providing almost immediate visual impact in the garden, brings beautiful colors and textures into the landscape, and is small enough to fit into just about any shape or pattern you can dream up.  Even if you don’t have a raised bed, like I do, you can still use lettuce as art in the garden along the borders of existing beds and many other places.

So, the next time you think about growing lettuce, why not put on your artist’s smock and do some designing with it?

The Power of Weeds and Greens

Weeds.  They are in abundance, right now, out at our homestead:  dandelions, purslane, lambsquarters, clover, stinging nettles, spurge, and a myriad of other “undesirables”.   I’ve learned to tolerate them, to a large extent, because of the benefits they bring, mining  trace minerals from deep under the ground and bringing them up to the surface where they can replenish the nutrients that are lacking in the soil.   I should have made the connection before, but,  after reading the book, Green for Life, by Victoria Boutenko, I now have an even greater appreciation for the weeds that blanket my yard — not only are they wonderful aids in helping restore soil fertility, but they are also an amazing, free source of powerhouse nutrients for the human body!

Along with other greens from my garden, like lettuce, arugula, beet greens, carrot tops, and certain herbs, I’ve been adding in these incredible weeds to create fabulous “green” smoothies that I enjoy, now, twice a day.

The more I read about the nutritional content of greens, the more I want to incorporate them into my diet.   According to Mrs. Boutenko, “greens are the primary food group that matches human nutritional needs most completely, and are the most essential food for humans.”

Wild edibles (weeds) often contain more vitamins and minerals than cultivated plants because they reach for the most fertile layers of the soil.  Some of the best weeds to include in green smoothies are:  clover, dandelion, lambsquarters, purslane, stinging nettles, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, and plantain.  (While none of these are dangerous for human consumption, however, it is best to rotate them on a constant basis, so that toxic alkaloids don’t accumulate and for better nutritional results.  The rule of thumb is to never eat the same greens more than two days in a row).

The following table, compiled by Mrs. Boutenko, demonstrates that greens can, most comprehensively, provide the recommended daily allowance of the essential vitamins and minerals as determined by the U.S. Department of Agruculture (USDA).

ESSENTIAL MINERAL AND VITAMIN CONTENT IN KALE AND LAMBSQUARTERS

Nutrients Kale Lambsquarters
Adequate intake or RDA
Folic Acid – 400 mcg/day
Niacin – 16 mg/day
Pantothenic Acid – 5 mg/day
Riboflavin (B2) – 1.3 mg/day
Thiamin (B1) – 1.2 mg/day
Vitamin A – 900 mcg/day
Vitamin B6 – 1.3 mg/day
Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mcg/day
Vitamin C – 90 mg/day
Vitamin D – 5 mcg/day
Vitamin E – 15 mg/day
Vitamin K – 120 mcg/day
1 pound raw
132 mcg
4.8 mg
0.68 mg
0.68 mg
0.68 mg
21,012 mcg
68 mg
data unavailable
547 mg
data unavailable
data unavailable
3,720 mcg
1 pound raw
136 mcg
5.4 mg
0.45 mg
0.9 mg
1.8 mg
15,800 mcg
8 mg
data unavailable
363 mg
data unavailable
data unavailable
data unavailable
Minerals
Calcium – 1,000 mg/day
Iron – 10 mg/day
Magnesium – 400 mg/day
Phosphorus – 700 mg/day
Potassium – 4.7 g/day
Sodium – 1.5 g/day
Zinc – 15 mg/day
Copper – 1.5 mg/day
Manganese – 10 mg/day
Selenium – 70 mcg/day
615 mg
7.5 mg
155 mg
255 mg
2.1 g
0.2 g
2.0 mg
1.4 mg
3.4 mg
4.0 mcg
1,403 mg
5.4 mg
154 mg
327 mg
2.1 g
0.2 g
1.8 mg
1.4 mg
3.6 mg
4.1 mc

Greens also contain a good amount of protein, supplied as essential amino acids, as demonstrated in the chart below.  The difference between the complex proteins found in the meat, dairy, and fish that humans mainly look to to provide their daily intake of protein, though,  and the individual amino acids found in fruits, vegetables, and, especially, greens are vastly different.  Our bodies have to work much harder to assimilate the long molecules of protein from a cow or a chicken than it does to create protein from the assortment of individual amino acids found in greens.   There can be a lot of “garbage” left over after consuming animal protein, undigested material, that can lead to health problems like allergies and immunological disorders.  Additionally, says  Boutenko, it can create a deficiency in essential amino acids in your body, which can lead to a whole slew of mental and physiological problems, like depression, lack of energy, ADD, and cravings for unwanted substances, like sweets, caffeine, alcohol, even drugs.   While one green vegetable may be low in certain amino acids, another may be high; therefore, I include a variety of leafy greens in my daily smoothies to ensure that I get them in abundance.

ESSENTIAL AMINO ACID CONTENT IN KALE AND LAMBSQUARTERS

Amino Acids RDA for adult
(mg/day)
Lambsquarters
1 lb raw
Kale
1 lb raw
Histidine
Isoleucine
Leucine
Lysine
Methionine + Cystine
Phenylalanine + tyrosine
Threonine
Tryptophaqn
Valine
560
700
980
840
910
980
490
245
700
527
1149
1589
1607
626
1549
740
173
1026
313
895
1051
895
345
1298
668
182
820

Another benefit I derive from green smoothies is the addition of  more fiber into my diet.  The recommended daily allowance for fiber is about thirty grams.    According to the American Dietetic Association, “American’s mean fiber intake is about half that.”  A lack of fiber can lead to the accumulation of toxins in the body, things like dust, undigested food, heavy metals, pesticides, and dead cells (which can be one of the most toxic kinds of waste in our bodies).  When we don’t have enough fiber to help eliminate this waste the correct way (through our bowels), our bodies compensate by trying to get rid of it in other ways, like excreting mucus through our eyes, nose, and throat, and through our skin via excess sweat.  However, when we consume enough insoluble fiber (found in greens) the body is able to eliminate toxins the way it is designed to.  Furthermore, there is evidence that fiber has many other health benefits.  According to the Mayo Clinic website, benefits of a high-fiber diet include: lowering of blood cholesterol levels, and better control of blood sugar levels.  Mrs. Boutenko also adds, in Green for Life, that fiber has many healing properties, such as strengthening a diseased heart, binding up excess estrogen, and can help prevent many different kinds of cancer, gallstones, ulcers, and strengthen the immune system.  In order to ensure I receive the necessary amount of fiber from my diet,  I’m working towards consuming about two quarts of green smoothie daily.

Greens also help make the body more alkaline, helping to control bacterial overgrowth, yeast problems, parasites, autoimmune diseases, celiac disease, and a host of other health issues that are related to abnormal levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

Otto Warburg, Nobel Prize winner, has shown that cancer thrives in an acidic environment.  When enough greens are consumed on a daily basis, pH balance can be maintained in our bodies.  (It is easy to check your pH level with litmus paper, or pH tape, which is easily found online).

Most of us are aware that what makes plants “green” is chlorophyll.  But did you know that chlorophyll is also a wonderful healing agent?  It carries significant amounts of oxygen, supporting aerobic (good) bacteria in our intestines, helping prevent, destroy, and heal many internal pathogens, fungi, and even cancer cells.  According to Victoria Boutenko, “Abundant scientific research shows that there are hardly any illnesses that could not be helped by chlorophyll.”  According to her, some of the healing properties of chlorophyll are: “builds a high red blood cell count, provides iron to organs, counteracts toxins eaten, improves anemic conditions, helps purify the liver, helps sores heal faster, soothes ulcer tissues, and improves vision”  By including green smoothies in my diet, I am keeping my body oxygenated, alkaline, and healthy.

Finally, there has been a lot of talk, lately, about the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids.  These tiny molecules help our hearts beat properly, blood flow freely, and brains make decisions quicker and more clearly.  It is good to know a good amount of Omega-3s  can easily be obtained from a green smoothie that contains any green, leafy vegetable,  and especially from smoothies containing spinach,romaine lettuce, arugula, and, most notably, the wild edible, purslane.

Knowing the tremendous power that greens have to supply vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, fiber, and Omega-3s, balance the body’s pH level, prevent and heal diseases, I’m going to continue drinking one to two green smoothies per day as part of my health regimen.  It’s quick and easy to whip up a batch in my blender and, given the abundant availability and variety of wild edibles on our property, it makes good economic sense to allow them to continue to grow and be cultivated for the powerhouse of nutrition that they truly are.

Here’s a recipe for my favorite green smoothie:

1 1/2 cups orange juice

2 cups frozen mango chunks

2 cups mixed greens

extra water, as needed

For more green smoothie recipes, and for even more information on green smoothies, you can visit Victoria Boutenko’s blog.

September Planting Guide

Summer’s nearly over and most Central Valley home gardens are starting to look at little tired, but, due to our wonderfully, long growing season, there are a lot of great veggies that can still be grown at this time of year here!  September is the perfect month for starting the following vegetables from seed:

  • Asian Greens
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Turnips

If you don’t have a prepared plot to start them in, you can create a quick and easy “no-dig, bag garden” for growing.  Complete instructions for a bag garden can be found at Mother Earth News.  Follow their planting guide for the late summer season or, if you live in the Central Valley of California, plant the varieties I listed above.

Happy growing!