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Have you ever found yourself intimidated by fashion magazines filled with beautiful celebrities and models who are then photoshopped to remove every little imperfection?

Believe it or not, vegetables can be portrayed the same way in magazines and online.  Articles filled with photographs of perfectly-sized vegetables without a speck of dirt on them can be intimidating to the average vegetable gardener.

Well, I’m here to tell you the truth and reveal two dirty secrets of vegetable gardening with some assistance from my little helper. 
My granddaughter, Lily, was excited to help me harvest the last of my cool season crops.

So we ventured out into the garden and pulled out carrots and garlic.  Then we harvested the last head of broccoli and picked the first of the blackberries from the bushes and cut the parsley.

This is what our harvest looked like.

I’ll admit that it looks rather dirty and messy and certainly not something you would see in a magazine.

This leads me to reveal the first ‘secret’ about vegetable gardening.

“It’s dirty.”
Think about it – vegetables grow in the dirt.  They don’t come out clean.  In fact, it can take a while to clean the dirt away. 

Lily was excited to help me clean the vegetables, so she would fill her ‘My Little Pony’ cup over and over and pour them over the carrots. 

In fact, freshly harvested vegetables leave dirt behind on counters, floors too.


And those shiny, clean garden tools and spotless gloves?  

They don’t exist in a real garden.

Okay, so we’ve covered the fact that vegetable garden is a dirty hobby – it’s supposed to be.

Now, here is the second dirty secret of vegetable gardening…
“Not all the vegetables are the same size and come out unblemished.”

Here are four carrots that I harvested from the same garden.  As you can see, they are all different sizes.

The tiny ones, came from an area where I accidentally dropped a small pile of seeds.  The large one was a result of an area in the garden that received too much water and the carrot was so big that it broke off as I attempted to pull it out.

Of course, any decent photo would display only the ‘normal-sized’ carrots – but that is not necessarily the truth of what a real garden harvest would look like.

Here is another example.  Our crop of garlic was bountiful.  But, notice that there are not all a uniform size.

While the majority of the garlic harvest was made up of normal-sized garlic heads – there were some very small and some giant heads.

But of course, that is not what you see when people typically show off their garden harvest – especially when they are to be photographed.

– First, only the most attractive vegetables are selected – those that are unblemished and a uniform size.

– Second, all the dirt is cleaned off.

– And finally, the decorative dish towels come out for an attractive background. 
I have several decorative dish towels that have never seen a dish.

I use them when I photograph vegetables, herbs, etc.

Here is my ‘perfect’ garlic harvest.  What is interesting is what you DON’T see.

All of them are nicely shaped, roughly the same size and most of the dirt was cleaned off.

Most definitely NOT what they looked like when I brought them in from the garden.

A ‘real’ vegetable harvest is not ‘photoshopped’ and consists of dirty vegetables, some with blemishes and in all sizes and shapes. 

So, when you harvest vegetables from your garden, don’t worry about perfect-looking vegetables.  Remember, it’s the taste that matters!

 

*This blog post contains affiliate link for a product that helps get rid of caterpillars. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

Fall is a busy time for me in the garden.  However, you will usually find me in other people’s gardens helping them achieve their goal of a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. I did manage to get my cool-season vegetable gardens planted.  I planted my favorites, which include carrots, cauliflower, garlic, a variety of leaf lettuces and radishes.

 
 
I included broccoli in my list of vegetables this year, despite the fact that I have yet to grow a healthy head of broccoli (the broccoli in the photo above is from my mother’s garden).
 
Every year, I grow beautiful cauliflower while my broccoli decides to produce very few flowering stalks.  At the end of the season when I look at my less than stellar broccoli harvest – I promise myself that I won’t try again.
 
But, after 6 months pass, I am always tempted to try again hoping that this year will be different.
 
With the exception of carrots and radishes, I planted all of my other vegetables from transplants.  Normally, I almost always use seed, (with the exception of broccoli and cauliflower, which do better when grown from transplants) but I knew that I wouldn’t have time to come out and thin excess plants later.
 
 
This smaller vegetable garden is closer to my kitchen and so I put in vegetables that I would harvest more frequently throughout the season in this area.  Leafy greens such as lettuce, Swiss chard, spinach and kale all went in here.
 
The larger garden is a bit further away and so it was planted with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, garlic and radishes, which are harvested once.
 
My artichoke plant from next year died back to the ground in the summer, (which is normal by the way) and is now growing again.



In addition to my artichoke, my bell pepper plant is also a holdover from last year’s garden.  Actually, it is 2 years old.  Although pepper plants can die from freezing temperatures, I protect mine when the temps dip below freezing, so they are qutie large and produce a lot of peppers much to the delight of my husband and children who like to eat the bell peppers raw.



I also dice them and freeze them for using in my favorite Mexican rice recipe.

I’ve already had to spray my leafy greens with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) to deal with the caterpillars that had started to eat holes in the leaves.  It worked great, but I will need to reapply every once in a while. I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.
 
 
Nasturtiums are coming up again from seed in the gardens.  I just let them go to seed each year and they always come back.  I use nasturtiums in my vegetable gardens because they repel bad bugs.  Besides, they look pretty, don’t you think?
 
 
Nasturtiums aren’t the only flowers in my vegetable gardens – marigolds are also great at keeping damaging insects at bay.  This year, I planted a marigold at the end of each row of vegetables.
 
I love how their orange flowers brighten up the garden in the middle of winter.
 
Marigolds and nasturtiums are just a few of the flowers who actually help vegetables.  For more information on other plants to include in your vegetable garden you can visit my previous post, “Even Vegetables Need Friends”.
 
 
I am having a problem in one of my vegetable gardens that began this past summer – spurge!  I have come to truly hate this creeping weed and it has decided to move from the nearby landscape areas into my vegetable garden.
 
It got pretty bad last summer and we ripped it all out.  To help combat it, we added 4 inches of compost/manure, which did help to smother some of the weeds.  But, some are still coming up.  So, I go out every week and spray them with my homemade weed killer, taking care not to spray my vegetables by accident.
 
You may see homemade weed killers that list salt as one of the ingredients.  DON’T add salt to weed killers – especially if you live in the desert Southwest.  Our soil and water already has a lot of salts in them and adding more is not good for your plants – in fact, too much salt can kill them.
 
Homemade weed killer made from vinegar and soap works just fine on most weeds, except for the really tough ones.
 
Have you planted a vegetable garden this year?  What are you growing?
 
 

What has your winter been like?


Has it been unusually cold or warm?  If you live in the Southwest, you have undoubtedly experienced a warmer then normal winter.  


As a result, many plants that are usually dormant in winter, are green and blooming even though it is still technically February.


I started wearing sandals 2 weeks ago, but I still haven’t broken out my shorts yet.  


Last week, I showed you my edible garden, (also known as a kitchen garden), which is located on the side of our house.


Today, I wanted to show you a peek at what is happening in the back garden during this warm winter.


This is one part of the back garden.  

This was my first vegetable garden.  Because this garden is close to the house, I like to plant vegetables that are harvested frequently such as leaf lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.  

To the right, you can see my pink trumpet vine.  Behind is a hollyhock getting ready to flower.
Against the wall is purple lilac vine in full bloom and peeking through the slats of the fence are nasturtium leaves.



I have two large rose bushes and the ‘Abraham Darby’ rose bush has a few lovely blooms.  You may notice that this rose has a rather old-fashioned appearance.  This is one of many David Austin shrub roses.

After growing 40 hybrid tea roses in the garden of our first house, I have found that I like shrub roses.  They are easier to take care of (need less pruning) and are very fragrant.


The pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana) growing up against the pillar of my patio has beautiful, pink flowers.  

Normally, it suffers some frost damage during the winter, but during this warm winter, I have had pink flowers all winter long.  The flowers normally show up in spring and fall and are truly stunning.

I went out into the garden and cut the flowers for a lovely bouquet yesterday.

This plant grows quickly and can be grown as either a vine or a sprawling shrub.


Another plant that usually shuts down for winter is coral fountain (Rusellia equisetiformis).  I love the arching branches of this perennial and its orange/red blossoms.


One plant that still looks like winter, is my bougainvillea.

A few days ago, I asked you on my facebook page if you love or hate bougainvillea.  I had an overwhelming response with most of you saying that you liked it.

I have two bougainvillea.  I used to have more, but while I love the beauty of bougainvillea, I don’t particularly like to prune them, so two words for me.


The blue sky is really the perfect backdrop for the orange, tubular flowers of orange jubilee (Tecoma x Orange Jubilee).  

For those who want a tall shrub that grows quickly, then orange jubilee is a great choice.

I recommend using it against a bare wall or to screen out pool equipment.

In fact, I visited a client who used orange jubilee as ‘green curtains‘ for her home.


Right now, my purple lilac vine (Hardenbergia violaceae) has taken center stage in the back garden.

Growing up my south-facing wall, they burst forth in a profusion of purple blooms every February and last into March.

The whiskey barrel planter is a holding area where I have planted my extra plants.  I’m not sure what I will do with it later.


In addition to growing purple lilac vine up walls, I also like to grow it as a groundcover too.  

*This vine is easy to find in nurseries in winter and spring, when they are in flower.  However, you can have a hard time finding it in summer and fall.  So if you want one, get it now.

Behind my purple lilac groundcover vine, I have red bird-of-paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) growing.  But,  because it is dormant in winter, it isn’t much to look at right now – but I’ll show you how lovely they are this summer.


Hollyhocks have a special place in my garden.  I love these old-fashioned flowers and their flowers are truly stunning in spring (they flower in the summer in cooler climates).

They self-seed and come up every year for me.  In a month, the flowers will start to burst forth and I can hardly wait.

The hollyhocks are located next to my smaller vegetable garden and receive enough water from the garden without me having to give them supplemental water.


Another old-fashioned favorite flower are nasturtiums.  These flowers have a place inside of all of my vegetable gardens.

Not only are they beautiful, nasturtiums also repel bad bugs from bothering my vegetables.  Another bonus is that their leaves and flowers are edible.

The bloom in late winter and through spring.  I let them dry up in summer before pulling them out.  They do drop some seeds, so I always have new ones coming up the next year in the garden.


I have several pots in front of my smaller vegetable garden.  In them, I plant a combination of vegetables and flowers, including bacopa, which trails over the edges of pots.


There are carrots and leaf lettuce growing in my second vegetable garden.

  I step outside into the garden whenever I need a few carrots for dinner and they taste so delicious.


In the same garden, I am growing celery for the first time.  I must say, that I am quite impressed at how well it is growing and can’t wait to taste it.

Last week, I mentioned showing you a part of my garden that I have NEVER shown anyone.

This is my side yard – NOT a garden…


This is the space where we store garden equipment, trash cans and our garden shed.  I also have my compost bin in this area.  

You can see only half of the side yard in this photo, but you aren’t missing anything by not seeing the rest.

Another purple lilac vine grows along the fence, which hides part of the side yard and a large ‘Desert Museum’ Palo Verde provides welcome shade.

Our second bougainvillea is located along the wall.  It is never watered and it has been 3 years since it has been pruned.  As you can see, it does just fine being ignored.

And so, I hope you have enjoyed peeking into parts of my back garden.  Of course, I haven’t shown it all to you – just the parts that are blooming.

In a few months, I will show the other areas when they are in bloom.

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So, what is blooming in your garden this month?

Do you have a favorite winter/spring blooming plant?


*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

When much of the nation is freezing their socks off, and their gardens are covered in a blanket of snow, I realize how much of a blessing it is to live in a climate where I can harvest vegetables from my garden in January.
My latest excursion out to the vegetable garden found Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, and carrots ready for picking.
 
Except for the broccoli (which I had other plans for), all of my freshly-picked veggies were going into our salad.
 
 
One crop that I have really enjoyed growing this year, is Swiss chard.  It grows so easily and I love its rainbow-colored stems.  
 
Believe it or not, Swiss chard tastes delicious in salads.
 
My lettuce had a tough start this fall with caterpillars eating much of it until I brought out the big guns – BT Bacillus thurgiensis, which is an organic control for the caterpillars.  It worked just great! I used Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.
 
I won’t go into all the details of how it works, although it is quite interesting.  For those of you who would like to learn more about BT, click here.
 
 
Here is a close-up of my salad.  You can’t see the carrots too well, but they are there.
 
 
It was so refreshing and delicious, especially when dressed with my grandmother’s ‘Top Secret’ Salad Dressing.  
 
 
I have recently revealed my grandmother’s secret recipe to my daughters, who now can make easily.  
 
So, what is in store for my vegetable gardens this month?
 
I have planted another crop of radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce and spinach.  
 
Next month, will be a busy month in the garden with getting ready to plant warm-season veggies.  
 
I can hardly wait!

Earlier this week, I shared with you the four vegetables that I am growing for the first time this year.  I will be sure to share with you how they do as the season progresses.


In addition to my experimenting with new vegetables, I am also growing some favorite cool-season vegetables…


My favorite cool-season vegetable crop is leaf lettuce.  I love nothing better then being able to step outside to snip off a few leaves to make a dinner salad.  

Once you have tasted fresh lettuce from the garden, there is no going back.  Bagged lettuce is a poor replacement.

About 1/3 of my three vegetable gardens are taken up with beautiful leaf lettuce.  I like to grow different varieties of leaf lettuce including Romaine, Buttercrunch, Great Lakes and Black Seeded Simpson lettuce.

I usually grow lettuce from seed because it is so easy.  It needs temps below 80 degrees to germinate, so October is a good time to plant it.

**Don’t plant all your lettuce at once.  Stagger your planting dates by 2 – 3 weeks, so that when your first crop of lettuce is finished (bolting), then you will have more coming up.  Because lettuce can be planted throughout the fall, winter and early spring, you can enjoy lettuce until April, if you stagger your planting dates.  This is what experienced vegetable gardeners do to prolong their harvest.   


Isn’t this cauliflower beautiful?  I grew this one two years ago and made the mistake of not planting any last winter.  I’ll never make that mistake again.

I love cauliflower and cut the crown into small 1/4 inch pieces that we sprinkle over our salad – it looks like crumbled cheese and my kids like it.

Cauliflower can be hard to grow from seed, so I use transplants.

**Stagger the planting of your cauliflower as well, so that it does not all ripen at once.  For example: I plant 3 cauliflower transplants every 2 weeks until the end of November.


I do not like cooked spinach.  But, I do like putting it in salads or on a sandwich.  

I have grown spinach from seed and from transplants.  It lasts all winter and into spring.


Carrots are a mainstay of any cool-season garden.  Because they are a root vegetable, they need to be planted from seed.

**My first year vegetable gardening, I planted all of my carrots at once and was rewarded with an ENORMOUS harvest.  We couldn’t eat that many carrots.  So, don’t plant all your carrots at once.  I recommend planting some every month through February, so you will always have some to enjoy, fresh from the garden.


This is the only photo I have of radishes in my garden.  I must remember to take one when they are a bit more developed.

Radishes are the easiest vegetable to grow from seed.  They come up fast – 3 days after planting the seeds, which makes them perfect for kids to grow.

**Stagger your planting of radishes, just as I recommended for carrots for a continual harvest.


I have a confession to make…

I seem to have problems growing broccoli.  I’m not sure why and after each disappointing season, I resolve NOT to grow it again.  But, I am trying again this year.

The photo above, is not my broccoli – it my mother’s 😉

**I have only a few broccoli planted now and will plant more through November, for a longer harvest.


I always plant garlic in October.  I haven’t gotten to it yet, but plan to next week.

Last spring, I was happy with my larger then expected garlic harvest.

The last vegetable on my list is onions, which I will plant from onion sets this month as well.

I promise to keep you updated with how my garden grows throughout the season.  

I would love to hear about what you are planting and/or what your favorite vegetables to grow are.

About this time of the year, I am busy helping my vegetable gardens transition into summer.  


That means pulling any remaining leaf lettuce.  Yes, it hurts to know that I now have to buy lettuce until next fall when I can grow it again.


Even though not all of my lettuce had bolted, none of it was edible.  Once the temperatures get up to 90 degrees, the lettuce turns bitter.



For the past 4 months, I have been harvesting a few carrots every few nights to include in salads or soups.

Now that it is getting hotter and some of the carrots are beginning to flower, it was time to harvest the rest of the remaining carrots.

I didn’t use the carrots that had flowered, since they had become woody inside.

You know, one of the things that I like about gardening is how unpredictable it can be.  The two carrots, above, were growing just 1 ft. away from each other.  

The garlic was already harvested and I concentrated on pulling out cool-season annuals that were serving as companion plants.


I love my crocs!
These nasturtiums were still blooming, so I will leave them until they begin to fade.


A quick check of my warm-season vegetables showed that my zucchini plant has its first fruit (yes, zucchini is technically a ‘fruit’).

You really have to check carefully for zucchini because they can be hard to spot.

I will have to get my mother’s famous zucchini bread recipe.


Tomatoes are hanging from the vine and will soon be turning red.

In my side garden, I have two new peach trees growing.


This one has 18 peaches on it.

I planted this peach tree in January.  Now, normally, you would want to ‘thin’ fruit so that there is only one fruit every 6 inches – this creates larger fruit.  But, I was so happy to see so much fruit on my new tree, that I just left them.

Since I won’t have enough to make peach jam, this year, I will use them to make peach vinegar.

I don’t just have peaches growing in my side garden…


My blackberry bush has ripe blackberries!

Originally, I hadn’t planned on growing blackberries in my garden, but my mother had an extra blackberry plant that she gave me last year, so I planted one.

I decided to go ahead and add more this year and planted 5 more bushes.

I only have the original blackberry bush covered in fruit because blackberries form on 1-year old growth.


My family wants me to use some of our blackberries to serve over ice cream.  

I was thinking of using them for making blackberry vinegar, which I’ll use to make salad dressing.

What do you think?  Ice cream topping or fruit-flavored vinegar?

For those of you who are kind enough to take time to read my “ramblings”, you know that I absolutely love to grow vegetables.


So, when I heard of a brand new book called, “The Speedy Vegetable Garden”, I just knew that I had to read it.



The publishers at Timber Press, were kind enough to give me a copy of the book to review and I must say, that I have already dog-eared more then 15 pages of things that I want to try in my garden.

What I really like about the book is that its focus is on growing vegetables and harvesting them within a relatively short time frame.

For example: I love to grow carrots.  But, I often get impatient and harvest a few carrots when they are still rather small.  Well, according to “The Speedy Vegetable Garden”, very young carrots are sweet and delicious.  

So, I went out into my garden and harvested some young carrots and enjoyed their delicious sweetness in my dinner salad.  I love this idea because I can spread out the harvest of my carrots – I can enjoy some while they are about 6 weeks old and the rest later.

Another project that I am anxious to try is making sun-dried tomatoes using cherry tomatoes, which ripen much more quickly then large tomatoes.  


I also learned that very young radish leaves make great micro greens for salads.

I was also inspired to start another gardening project – growing potatoes in containers.

If these potatoes were in your kitchen, you’d probably throw them out.  But, seed potatoes are supposed to have sprouts growing 😉
The last time I grew potatoes – I was a college student and we had each been given a piece of farm land to plant vegetables.  Since french fries was among my favorite foods at the time, I made sure that I included potatoes in my vegetable plot.


This time, I bought an inexpensive container with holes on the bottom for drainage, some seed potatoes and potting soil.  I filled the pot with 4″ of potting soil, added 3 seed potatoes (they are really small potatoes), and then added 4 more inches of soil.  


I must keep them well-watered, but not soggy.  I will apply fertilizer as well.  Soon, green leaves will appear and I will cover them with more potting soil.  This cycle will repeat itself (adding more soil once leaves appear) until the soil reaches the top of my container.  In just 8 – 12 weeks, I will be harvesting my own potatoes.

I can hardly wait!

I encourage you to read “The Speedy Vegetable Garden” by authors Mark Diacona & Lia Leendertz.

Maybe your copy will become as dog-eared as mine 😉

Today was a beautiful winter’s day.  The temperature was a little above normal for this time of year. 


We spent time out in the garden today with our granddaughter, Lily.


I spent time harvesting leaf lettuce, radishes, carrots and cauliflower for our dinner salad.

 I used our bounty to make a delicious salad for dinner.
 
The only thing from the grocery store in our salad was the cucumbers, which aren’t in season until summer.
 
As I was picking the vegetables earlier today, Lily was busy picking something entirely different…
 

 

Rocks!
 
She absolutely loves to pick up rocks. 
 
Thankfully, she doesn’t like to eat them 😉
 
 

Is there such a thing as too many vegetables in your garden?

My radishes are definitely doing well.  But, there are too many growing close together.
Why did this happen?  Did I plant too many?
When you plant small seeds, you scatter them along small furrows.  You do plant more seeds then vegetables that will grow to maturity.
The reason for this is that some seeds do not germinate. 
After they sprout, and begin to grow – then you have to ‘thin’ them out.  This involves removing certain seedlings so that the remaining ones are at a proper distance from each other and have plenty of room to grow.
So, how do you ‘thin’ seedlings?
Simply use a pair of scissors and cut the extra seedlings off at the base.
This works much better then pulling them out because you can disturb the roots of the seedlings that are staying.
So how far apart should your vegetable plants be from each other?  Well, it depends.  Look at your seed packet, which will tell you how far apart they should be.
I just thinned my radishes (the easiest vegetable to grow, by the way).  My carrots aren’t quite ready yet, so I will probably thin them out in a couple of weeks.
I hope your week is off to a great start! 

Oh, I have been imagining the bounty of vegetables that will come from my cool-season vegetable garden.
I have visions of of harvesting lettuce, garlic, carrots, green onions, cauliflower, spinach and radishes fresh from the garden.
Marigolds and nasturtiums will also be included in the
vegetable garden to help keep bad bugs away and they make the
vegetable garden pretty.

Of course, I still have cucumbers, peppers, bush beans and tomato plants in the garden, which keep me busy.  But, I can hardly wait to plant my cool-season vegetables.
 And so in a few weeks, I will add 3 inches of new compost and 1 inch of manure to my gardens, to get them ready for the seeds that I will plant.
I prefer starting vegetables from seed, except for cauliflower & garlic.  Cauliflower does best when started from transplants.  I’ll plant my garlic in October from cloves (I still have about ten heads of garlic left from my spring harvest :-).
I am putting my order in for my seeds now so that they will be ready to plant.
How about you?
What are you going to plant this fall?
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For information on what kind of vegetables to plant in your garden and when to plant them – check out this link (simply enter your zip code for a customized vegetable planting calendar).

**Here is a link of when to plant cool and warm-season vegetables Maricopa County, which is where I live 🙂