Monday, July 25, 2011

Green Beans - Plant Twice and Harvest Throughout the Season

Vegetable gardens are at their peak in mid-summer but that's when it's time to plant for fall harvests.  Since bush green beans produce a crop in only 50-55 days, they can be planted in spring as well as mid-summer, July 25 to August 10.

At the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we are growing a variety of bush beans which are sometimes called snap beans. That's because they "snap" when broken into pieces. They grow in a bush 12" - 18" tall.

Our recent harvest included  Provider green beans, Cherokee yellow wax and Royal Burgundy (all pictured above).  Provider is one of the most popular green bean varieties as it is adaptable to many conditions. Cherokee yellow wax is known for vigorous and hardy plants.  Royal Burgundy beans are stunning for their color but turn green when cooked.

Bush beans usually provide about 3-4 harvests before they stop producing.  Plant seeds 1 inch deep in full sun with 3 inches between plants in a row. If you're planting in the summer, be sure and keep the soil moist so your seeds will sprout.

Bush beans are easy to grow but take up more space than pole beans. Pole beans are green beans that grow on a vine.  They can be grown on stakes or trellises and can grow 10-15 feet tall.  Because they take longer to produce a crop, they are planted only in the spring.

Besides taking up less space, pole beans produce beans over a longer period than bush beans.  They also dry off quickly after rain so they are less susceptible to bean diseases.  However, make sure you consider if your pole beans will shade any other vegetables that need full sun.
We grow lots of other beans at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, including the edamame (soy) beans pictured above, pole lima beans and black-eyed peas. One of our new favorites it the yardlong bean which grows about 18 inches long and can be cooked like a green bean.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Raising the Stakes - and Trellises

Vegetables need your support in many ways but staking and trellising give them physical support to prevent damage and increase harvests.  Otherwise, stems can break and fruit rot on the ground.  Trellises and stakes also allow you to grow more plants in a small space.


 Some plants such as cucumbers, peas and pole beans will vine onto a trellis although they may need you to weave their vines through the trellis.  Trellises may be wire, wood, netting or string formed into a lattice - just make sure the structure is strong enough to support lush vines and bountiful fruit!

If the vines aren't attaching to the trellis, you may need to tie them to the trellis.  Here we strung twine from post to post to keep peas growing on the trellis.

Tomatoes need caging or staking not only to keep fruit off the ground but also to provide better air circulation to discourage fungal diseases.  Many tomato varieties easily grow six feet tall with heavy fruit so sturdy support is critical.  Small wire cages at garden centers usually are only 3 feet tall and top heavy.

At the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we made cages from 5 foot lengths of concrete reinforcing wire which has openings big enough for your hand to pick a tomato. We formed the wire into a cylinder about 22 inches in diameter and placed over young tomatoes.  The tomatoes then grow up and through the wire to get plenty of support without any ties.

Make sure to anchor tomato cages to a post so the cage doesn't blow over in a strong wind.  You can also tie cages to one another to increase stability as long as you have some posts.
Staking tomatoes is another option. Use a 1 x2 inch wood stake about 6 feet long.  Place it about 4 inches from the base of the tomato plant and drive it 10 inches or more into the ground.  As the tomato grows, use commercial  ties, cut up t-shirts or other stretchy cloth.  Bring the cord under a branch on the main stem and attach it to the stake.  Leave at least 1/2" play to allow room for the stem to grow and place a tie about every 12 inches up the vine.  

Peppers need stakes 3-4 feet tall so you can tie the main stem to the stake.  Stake or cage early in the season so plants and  roots aren't damaged in the process.

Tomato cages may be left in the garden all season but wooden and metal stakes benefit from coming inside for the winter.  Chimney flue tiles, available from masonry supply stores, make sturdy containers for stakes of all types.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Pot on Every Porch!

If  you don't have much yard or sun, you can still grow veggies in containers.  This lush container of greens provided a bountiful harvest today at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden.  We have a "curbside treasure" garden where we grow in things we found on the curb to show you don't need to spend a fortune to get started gardening. 

The Right Container
Vegetables don't care a lot about a pretty container as long as it is large enough and has good drainage. Avoid any chemically treated wood or containers that held chemicals. Try to use a light color to avoid heat build-up.

One of the most common reasons for wimpy container harvests is using a too-small container.  Although greens and lettuces tolerate a pot that is only five inches deep, a small tomato plant really prefers a container 5 gallons or larger.  We use several half-barrels that produce beautiful crops year after year.

You can even grow in the reusable shopping bags that are widely available.  We sewed the tops of four bags together to create the effect of a larger container that won't dry out as quickly.  At the right is a photo from planting day in early April. Below you can see how the plants are quite happy today and ready for harvesting. 
 Place your container where it will get at least 8 hours of sun.  Although leafy vegetables tolerate less sun, any fruiting vegetables prefer more than 8 hours of sun.

The Right Soil
Don't skimp on the soil - a high-quality potting soil is best.  Don't use topsoil alone as it won't drain well. Below, you can see how we made our own potting soil in early spring by mixing equal amounts of compost, topsoil and vermiculite.  Plan to replace the top 12 inches or more of soil each year as it wears out quickly in containers due to frequent watering.

The Right Watering

Containers need frequent watering because the soil dries out more quickly than in-ground plants.  In the height of summer, smaller containers may need to be watered twice a day. Mulching helps retain water so we heavily mulch containers with at least an inch of hardwood mulch. Grouping containers together also helps preserve moisture.

If the soil is pale or cracked, it's time to water.  You can also check by sticking  your finger an inch into the soil to see if the soil is dry. Use a gentle spray and make sure you are watering the soil, not just the leaves.  Water until the soil is soaked and running out the drainage holes in smaller containers.

Don't over-water and make sure your container drains. If the soil stays wet too long, your plant's roots won't get air and will drown.

Because the frequent watering washes out nutrients in smaller pots, you'll need to fertilize frequently.  Consider feeding your containers every two weeks once they get growing.  Use organic fertilizer or a synthetic fertilizer in liquid or time release form.

There's Still Time to Plant! 

Try planting themed containers of warm season vegetables before the end of May.  This year we have a salsa garden of tomatoes, red onion, green pepper, hot pepper and cilantro.  We're trying a new combination to make a creole garden of pepper, onions, cayenne pepper, okra and tomato.  An herb garden makes it easy to add fresh flavor. Our herb container is filled with thyme, basil, oregano, parsley and sage.

Containers are the easiest way to get started with vegetables.  They are easy to reach for elderly or children, require little care and provide the satisfaction of growing tasty food at your backdoor!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Planting Plan and Our Favorite Varieties

We're planning to plant the Harvesters Demonstration Garden on March 26 so we finalized our planting plan this week.  We'll be planting varieties proven for the Kansas City area and provided by the great folks at Kansas City Community Gardens.  We'll only be planting cool season plants first and then warm season plants around Mother's Day.  Here are some of our top picks.

Of course, we'll plant the standard popular early green bean variety, 'Provider'.  But we're adding a new type of bean called the Yard Long Bean which has a sweet flavor and beautiful color as you can see in this photo. It grows to 10' tall and has pods that are 15" to 18" long!

We grow beets for both the beets and the greens and our favorite variety is 'Early Wonder Tall Top'.
This Carrot 'Mokum' is in our planting plan because it is very sweet and very early. 

We'll plant a 2002 All-America winner (the Oscars of the veggie world), 'Cucumber 'Diva'.  It has a smooth thin skin and a tender bitter free taste.  Plus, it's resistant to mildew and has some resistance to cucumber beetles.

Our favorite Okra variety is 'Annie Oakley II" because it's productive even in cool weather.  The plants are also shorter which makes them easier to pick.

Kids love Sugar Snap peas and we love the 'Super Sugar Snap' variety (above) for its earlier and higher yield.  Plus, it's resistant to powdery mildew.

We'll dedicate a long row to the very early and very prolific pepper, 'Gypsy'. The plants are compact and the peppers have a zesty taste. For a traditional bell pepper, we're planting the fruity and sweet variety, 'Red Knight'. 

 We should have a lot of spinach early with the above pictured variety 'Space'.  It's also long standing so should produce for quite a while before the summer heat kicks in.

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights" is another favorite for its vibrant, rainbow colored stalks and its steady supply of greens from spring through fall.

We're trying watermelon for the first time this year in the Harvesters Demonstration Garden.  Watermelon 'Yellow Doll' should work well in our limited space because of its small fruits and vines.  We're looking forward to its sweet and juicy bright yellow flesh!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pledge to Plant a Row for the Hungry

If you're thinking about planting a spring vegetable garden, please consider planting an extra row for the hungry.  In the Kansas City region, 1 in 8 people receive emergency food assistance.  It's likely we all have someone in our address book who is food insecure.

This year, Powell Gardens is partnering with Harvesters to encourage gardeners to participate in the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program.  At their plant sale on Mother's Day weekend, Powell Gardens will offer a discount to anyone who pledges to Plant a Row for the Hungry and donate it to Harvesters. Pledge and get 1 free vegetable plant with every 10 purchased and 1 free seed packet with every 10 purchased.

If you can't make it the Powell Gardens Spring Plant Sale, you can still mail your pledge to Harvesters.  Just print the pledge form at the top of this page.

In Kansas City, you can plant a little extra and donate it through drop-off sites the Harvesters has available throughout the metro for fresh produce. also contains a list of upcoming classes in the KC on how to get started with a vegetable gardening.  To see a schedule of classes and a list of drop-off sites for your bountiful harvest, go to|030|010&~=