Authors Posts by Jeremy DeLisle

Jeremy DeLisle

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Foodscaping
photo courtesy of Scott Costello

Foodscaping, or edible landscaping, is the integration of food-producing plants and ornamentals in your yard. It is a practical and innovative way for you to grow more food, use space efficiently, and create colorful and interesting landscape designs.

You can include a wide variety of plants, such as fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers in your edible landscape.

Four tips for your edible landscape

  • Forget traditional row planting. Think instead of beauty and style. Plant your edible plants in a random pattern based on what looks good together.
  • Think about sunlight. Most fruits and vegetables prefer six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. But certain leafy greens like lettuce and kale can get by with less.
  • Plant a variety of perennials and annuals. Think of your perennial choices as the framework of your garden, since they will remain in place for many seasons. Annual crops provide rapid growth, color, opportunities for multiple plantings within a single season, and the chance to quickly learn what you like and don’t like in a given space. Remember to rotate your annual crops to keep your soil healthy.
  • Consider the mature size of the plant, especially where trees are concerned. Dwarf fruit trees are an excellent option if you’d like tree fruits in your landscape. Climbing vines like grapes require annual pruning and add a vertical element to your plan.

The integration of edibles into your landscape can be a gradual process, and you may choose to add plants slowly over time.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

soil

Q: I’d like to grow some of my own transplants for the garden this year. Can you provide some tips that will help get me started on the right track?

A: When planning to germinate your own vegetable, fruit, or flower seeds, there are three major factors to consider: soil moisture, temperature, and light.

Choose a mix specifically for starting seeds

Always select a mixture specifically labeled for seed starting. This will ensure the soil’s ability to hold moisture while allowing enough drainage to prevent waterlogged seeds. Typical mixture ingredients include peat moss or coconut coir, perlite, vermiculite, potentially compost, worm castings, and other sources of conventional and organic fertility.

Maintain adequate moisture and temperature

Pre-moisten the mixture before seeding and maintain a steady supply of moisture while seeds are germinating. The soil mixture should feel like a damp sponge, and squeezing a handful should produce a few drops of water. Trays outfitted with plastic domes or covered with plastic wrap can keep the mixture moist during germination. Be sure to remove the cover as soon as the seeds sprout to allow ventilation and prevent conditions that encourage disease.

Ideal germination temperature ranges vary from seed to seed, but most seeds will germinate well at a soil temperature 65-75 degrees. Heat mats with a simple temperature probe and thermostat will increase success substantially and are well worth the investment.

Provide adequate light

Seed packets indicate whether the seeds require light to germinate. Cover seeds that need light with a dusting (less than a quarter-inch) of peat moss or vermiculite to conserve moisture and prevent the seeds from washing out when you water.

Supplemental light is often required for growing good quality transplants. An inexpensive shop light with cool white or full spectrum bulbs will work fine.

You will want to start out with the bulbs just 3-4 inches away from the seedling and maintain that distance as they grow. It is key to raise the light as seedlings grow and ensure that the light is available as soon as the seedlings emerge to prevent stretched out or “leggy” plants.

These lights should be left on for 16 hours per day to ensure adequate light for growth. Programmable timers can be used to turn lights on and off.

Ordering seeds

Time is of the essence where placing seed orders is concerned. Cold-hardy crops like kale could be started as early as the first couple of weeks in March to produce a six- to eight-week-old transplant ready to be planted into the garden around May 1. For transplants with a target planting date of Memorial Day, we have an extra month or so before many of those should be started.

Ordering early helps ensure that the varieties at the top of your list are still in stock. Buy quality seed from reputable companies. Try to learn a little about the companies that you buy from, as breeding programs and proper maintenance of varieties can make a huge difference in the success and final products of your garden.

Seeds ordered this season should be marked with the date stating that they were packaged for sale in 2017. While seeds can be kept for more than one year, viability of seeds tends to decrease over time. Viability charts for a variety of garden seeds are available online. Ordering only what you will use each year and using fresh seeds will help increase success with germination rates.

Seed packs saved from year to year should be resealed and stored in a cool, dark location after use. To check older seeds for viability, you can conduct a simple germination test by planting a small number into a seed-starting mix. An aluminum pie pan works well for this purpose, and can hold multiple batches of seed. Ten seeds is a good number to try, since all 10 germinating represents a 100 percent germination rate, while five would represent 50 percent. Even if only half of your seeds germinate, they can still be used. Simply seed at twice the recommended rate on the seed packet, knowing that only half of the seeds are likely to sprout.

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to a great start to the gardening season. For more information, refer to UNH Cooperative Extension’s Starting Plants Indoors from Seed.

The UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Officials in Portsmouth, NH, are asking residents to cut down on their water use.

Seed catalogues are now showing up in mailboxes in full force, assuring us that spring is not too far away. Here at the Education Center and Info Line, we are already getting calls daily from gardeners seeking advice on strategies to have their best gardens yet. Let’s take a look at a few suggestions to help ensure success in the coming season.

Resistant varieties should be part of the first line of defense for gardeners looking for environmentally friendly options to grow plants challenged by common pests and diseases without a relying on pesticides. Tomatoes are a great example of a crop that has seen some very exciting developments in disease resistance in recent years, with some varieties containing resistance to early blight, late blight, and other diseases all in one. One of the most useful strategies in the garden is to remain diligent about the identification of pests and diseases in the garden. Once they have been identified, it becomes possible to utilize resistance and variety selection as a major means of control.

Controlling environmental conditions is a strategy that can be very effective in certain conditions. In plant pathology, we often think about the contributing factors to plant diseases within a complex known as the “disease triangle.” For a disease to thrive, each corner of the triangle must contain one of the following: a host, suitable environmental conditions, and a pathogen. Take away just one of these factors, and the problem cannot persist. Many fungal diseases require prolonged periods of leaf wetness to grow. In the garden, consciously implementing good irrigation practices can help tip the scales in our favor. Avoiding overhead watering, providing plenty of space between plants for airflow, and watering early in the day to facilitate rapid leaf drying are recommended practices to reduce disease pressure.

Increasing organic matter provides a multitude of benefits in garden soils. As it decomposes, a constant stream of nutrients, including nitrogen, is released into the soil matrix and becomes available to plants. Your soil test can tell you what percentage of organic matter your soil presently contains. It’s a good practice to track this organic matter over time, since every 1-percent increase in soil organic matter increases soil water holding capacity by 25,000 gallons per acre. Organic matter can be added to the garden in the form of compost, manure, leaves, straw, bark mulch, and cover crops.

Extending the growing season is important to maximize what we can grow in a given season. Techniques such as utilizing cold frames, floating row covers, hoop houses, and even high tunnels continue to gain popularity, making it possible to harvest some cold-tolerant vegetables well into late fall, and extra early in the spring.

Encouraging beneficial insects is a strategy where we can work with nature to control insect pests. Many of these beneficials feed on insect pests that would otherwise cause damage to our favorite plants. Planting a diversity of flowering plants that bloom over an extended season from spring through fall will help ensure that beneficials have the food and shelter needed to set up camp in your gardens.

Conserving water has been a major issue over the last few seasons. Utilizing smart irrigation technologies like drip or wicking systems can drastically reduce the amount of water needed to keep plants healthy and growing. Properly mulching garden beds add to this conservation effort while reducing plant diseases simultaneously.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

houseplant

Editor’s note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

Q: Can you give me a few tips on how to care for my houseplants over the winter? — Paula G of Winchester

A: Having plants in the house can go a long way toward improving your indoor environment over the winter. Watching plants grow and bloom indoors while the snow flies outside reminds us that spring will eventually come again.

Light is one of the most important factors for indoor plants. While selecting plants, group them into categories that grow well in high-, medium-, and low-light conditions. South-facing windows with good exposure would be an example of a high-light location. Succulents and herbs require high-light conditions. Plants such a begonias and African violets prefer medium-light conditions, while dracaena and philodendron will do well in the lower-light portions of our homes.

Temperature also comes into play with houseplants. Be sure to keep them away from drafty areas and contact with cold windowpanes. Leaves may chill and show signs of cold damage if this happens. At the same time, avoid placing plants directly over radiators or in the path of forced hot air. This will dry out the plant foliage, as well as the moisture in the soil, often resulting in crispy leaves. Consider adding a tray of pebbles with some water under the pot to raise the humidity level. Grouping plants close together also conserves moisture in the air.

Fertilizing houseplants over the winter should be minimized. Some potting mixes will have enough fertilizer to carry them through most of the winter. Liquid and granular fertilizers designed for houseplants are also available. One or two applications will generally be enough fertility for the winter.

As a result of over-fertilizing, salt can build up in the soil of your houseplants. In high enough concentrations, this residual salt can injure or even kill a houseplant. A white crust on the surface of the pot is a sign of salt buildup. One way to prevent this accumulation is to “leach” your houseplants. Simply pour a lot of water through the plant and let it drain out. Periodic leaching flushes any residual salt.

Keeping your houseplants clean is important, as dust buildup on leaves can reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize. Wipe plants with a damp cloth, or rinse in the sink or shower with room temperature water.

Lastly, plants in the winter lose leaves for a variety of reasons. Some of the more common are changing locations, lower light levels, cold temperatures, and too much water. Consider these possibilities if your plants drop leaves.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

winter farmers market Wentworth Greenhouses
Winter farmers markets, like the one held at Wentworth Greenhouses in Rollinsford (above), are a great way to source local food in the winter. photo by Chloe Kanner

Editor’s note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

Local foods are quickly becoming more of the rule rather than the exception. People are understanding what it means to “vote with your food dollars.” They have seen that making a conscious decision to seek out and support local farms greatly helps to ensure the long-term viability of our agricultural communities.

Buying local foods can seem easier in the warmer months, but there are plenty of ways to continue purchasing from local farms right through the winter. Winter farmers markets and CSA
(community supported agriculture) programs can provide fresh produce throughout winter. Meat producers are an especially good option for continuing to source locally, as their products are easily frozen and utilized throughout the winter. Remember to keep our New Hampshire fisherman in mind when planning those holiday menus. Visit nhseafood.com to learn more.

Consumer demand is the real driving force that will continue to move this trend of local foods forward into new and exciting territories. So where can you get started with finding a location near you to buy great fresh food for the holidays?

One great place to start is the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture website. From their homepage (agriculture.nh.gov), click on the “Publications and Forms” tab. Here you will find listings of farmers markets (both summer and winter), as well as farm stands, markets by region, farms by commodity, restaurants featuring local products, and much more. The N.H. Farmers Market Association is another great resource for the latest market information, news, and events. Have a look at nhfma.net.
Regional initiatives such as Seacoast Eat Local and Local Foods Plymouth make it possible to easily access local foods year-round, while guides such as the Lake Region Local Food Guide help locate farms near you.

Keep in mind that many specialty markets and large grocery-store chains feature local foods as well. Good product labeling on the store shelves can help consumers easily identify local products. Remember, if you are in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the manager of each department what they have available from local farms. Chances are you will be surprised at their willingness to talk about the wonderful products they are able to source locally.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

hori hori garden knife
A hori hori garden knife is a versatile tool for digging and cutting.

Editor’s note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

Q: Now that I’ve recovered from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I’m looking to finish up holiday shopping for the gardener in my family. Are there tools you could suggest that every gardener should own? — K. Kringle, Bethlehem

A: We asked some of our master gardeners to weigh in on this and have include their suggestions to help with holiday gift ideas. We hope you enjoy and are thankful to the master gardeners who contributed.

A quality garden fork is an essential tool for many gardeners. Quality is important, as garden forks are often used for tough jobs requiring a lot of force. Look for models with foraged steel prongs. Avoid models with weak connections between the prongs and the handle.

An action hoe, also known as the Hula Hoe, makes easy work of cutting small weeds at the root. Just push the hoe back and forth through the soil to dislodge all those little weed seedlings. It comes in several sizes, and even in a small hand-tool design. Look for models with a strong connection between the head and the handle.

A good set of pruners (or two or three) is essential equipment for any gardener. When choosing pruners, quality is important. Look for pruners with strong steel blades; softer blades will dull quickly, making pruning difficult and more damaging to the plant. Look for models with adjustable tightness; keeping blades closely aligned will allow you to make cleaner, easier cuts. A strong spring is also important; strong spring action to push the blades open after each cut will reduce effort and hand fatigue. For most applications, bypass pruners are preferable to anvil pruners, as they slice through stems rather than crushing them. Pruners are available in a variety of grip sizes and ergonomic designs; choose a model that fits comfortably in your hand.

pruners
A good set of pruners is essential equipment for any gardener.

Some of the best garden tools are not necessarily designed for use in the garden. Stop by the home-improvement store for some must-have items. Look in the concrete section for a durable kneeler board. The hard plastic bottom spreads your weight to minimize soil compaction and protects your knees from any sharp rocks or stems. The rubber pad and sturdy handles also make handy trays for carrying supplies from one area of the garden to the next. Also from the cement section, look for heavy-duty PVC tubs. The 10-gallon size works well and weighs under 2.5 pounds. Use it to contain your mess when mixing soil and filling pots.

A bucket organizer, available at hardware stores, keeps your hand tools and supplies tidy and accessible. Plastic inserts can be used to keep small items handy. Consider designating a bucket for carrying in your vegetable harvest — larger produce (tomatoes and cucumbers) in the bottom, smaller produce (cherry tomatoes, pea pods) in the insert. A bucket lid with storage and a seat-top can really expand the potential uses of your standard bucket.

The hori hori garden knife is a versatile tool for digging and cutting. Use it as a trowel to dig and use the sharp serrated edge to cut through roots, divide perennials, or slice open a bag of mulch. It even has a ruler imprinted on the blade to measure planting depth or spacing.

Additional tips

Many manufacturers also offer tools designed specifically for women. The best of these tools incorporate ergonomic design principles focused on comfort, safety, efficiency, and ease of use with results from field trials where women tested the tools and gave feedback for improvements.

Whatever tool you decide to give, include these helpful maintenance tips:

• Use a file or tool-specific sharpener to maintain sharp, smooth edges.

• Use vegetable and mineral oil to keep tools clean and free of rust.

• Use a wire brush to remove soil before it hardens.

• Use a bucket of coarse sand with oil added to clean and store hand tools. (Plunging the tools into the sand removes debris and keeps them smooth, while the oil coats them and prevents rust.)

Quality garden tools are an investment that, with proper care, can be handed down to the next generation. They are gifts that all gardeners appreciate.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

acorns

Editor’s note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

Q: I’ve noticed that there are lots of acorns this year. Why is that? — Peter B of Antrim

A: Much of New Hampshire is seeing a great crop of acorns this year. Mast crops are typically defined as the fruit of forest trees. There are a number of factors that contribute to heavy mast crops. Climatic factors such as wind, late frost, prolonged rain, humidity, and temperatures can all affect flowering and pollination, and all of these must cooperate for fertilization to occur. Only once this has happened is there a chance that a seed will mature and eventually grow into a tree. Acorn production also varies from tree to tree, so genetics also play an important role in acorn production.

Percentage-wise, very few acorns will survive to grow into seedlings. When considering all of the environmental factors, the fact that a huge number of fruits are lost to early abscission (drop), and that acorns serve as a fundamental food source for so many organisms, it’s pretty amazing that a few of them actually survive and grow into the mighty oaks we know and love.

Animals, insects, birds, and microorganisms (mainly fungi) all use acorns as a food source. Also of interest, white oaks mature seeds in one season, while red oaks require two. It is generally agreed upon that oaks and other mast-producing trees must store resources for a time between large crops. Therefore, it makes some sense that after a year or two of heavy production, depending on the species, we might expect a period of lower production until energy reserves are built back up. Extreme drought conditions could play a role in how quickly trees are able to replenish reserves.

Animal populations also fluctuate with mast crops. In the years immediately following a good nut crop there is often an increase in the small mammal populations like squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. In these years, very few acorns will have the opportunity to sprout before they are eaten. The years following will see a rise in the hawk and owl populations that feed on those small mammals, helping to balance out the small mammal population once more. Once populations of small mammals decline, the opportunity for subsequent crops of nuts to sprout and grow increases, and the cycle continues.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769, Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Fall trees
photo by Kristi Costello

Editor’s note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

We are now in the second half of October and the weather forecast predicts cooler temperatures to come. Plant growth is slowing down rapidly, reminding us that now is the time to take action to ensure a successful season next year.

Protect sensitive plants from frost
As night temperatures begin to drop, the first order of business should be harvesting heat-loving vegetables and ornamentals that won’t tolerate frost. Tomatoes and peppers are obvious examples, but even potatoes and winter squash don’t stand to gain anything by remaining in the garden once the tops begin to die down.

Other plants needing immediate attention are geraniums, begonias, fuchsias, and many of our summer bulbs including dahlia, canna, and elephant ear. For specific information on winter care of these species contact the Education Center.

Tidy up beds
Clean up annual beds, but take advantage of fall leaves for additions of organic matter. Shred the leaves with a lawn mower and apply as a top-dressed mulch. For best results, add compost and manures into the top few inches of soil. Avoid leaving bare soil at all costs.

Perennial beds should also be tidied up, but don’t overdo it. Remove diseased top growth, but consider leaving seed heads that may provide winter interest and food for wildlife. Healthy top growth can often be returned to the soil as mulch or composted for next season.

Tree and shrub care
Remember that some trees and shrubs require winter protection as well. Thick-barked trees such as ornamental cherries often suffer from winter damage, often described as southwest injury. In winter, sun reflects off the snow on the southwest side of the tree, thawing the snow during the day. The melted snow then refreezes as temperatures drop at night. Over time this freezing and thawing can result in bark damage and, eventually, more serious permanent damage. To avoid this issue, consider wrapping sensitive trees with plastic or paper tree guards. Burlap screening also offers the same protective effect. Remove these protective materials once the snow melts in spring.

Shrubs planted under house eaves often take a beating when snow and ice come crashing down on them. Protect them with homemade wooden framing or store bought covers made from steel rods and synthetic fabric.

Prune appropriately
Delay most tree and shrub pruning until the plants are completely dormant. Pruning before dormancy can result in poor wound healing or unwanted growth that may not tolerate winter temperatures. To be sure plants are in full dormancy, gardeners often wait until mid-February to tackle pruning woody ornamentals. Remember, plants that bloom before mid-June should be pruned just after flowering is completed, so consider bloom times to avoid snipping off potential flower buds.

Mulch should be applied once the ground has cooled down and plants have gone dormant. Although the goal is to use the mulch as insulation, it should keep the plants cold throughout the dormant season. Three to four inches of mulch will keep plants hardy, so they aren’t damaged should a sudden cold snap return.

Test your soil
If you haven’t submitted a soil sample from your garden, make this the year you get it done. Knowing which nutrients are plentiful or scarce in your soil may be the most important factor in growing a successful garden. Collect your samples before the ground freezes and within three weeks you will have your results.

UNH Cooperative Extension and the University of New Hampshire provide soil analysis and nutrient recommendations. All soil testing details, including information on how to take a soil sample and the soil testing form, are available on the Cooperative Extension’s website.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769 Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Apple Harvest Day

Editor’s note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

Here in New Hampshire, the time is ripe to enjoy a fall tradition: the bountiful apple harvest. Varieties like Paula Red and Gravenstein have been coming in since late August and early September, followed by McIntosh, Cortland, Macoun, Gala, Honeycrisp Red and Golden Delicious, Empire, Baldwin, Northern Spy, and Mutsu. The harvest continues throughout the month of October and into November for varieties including Baldwin, Fuji, Rome, and Granny Smith.

The drought this season has been challenging for farmers to say the least, and as consumers there is no better time than now to show our support for local producers. Together we can help our local farms finish up the season on a high note by getting out there and buying locally.

Pick-your-own (PYO) orchards are great places to build family memories and collect healthy food for your table. The New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association lists pick-your-own orchards on their website and the New England Apple Association allows folks to find local picking options, search for your favorite variety, find recipes, and learn about apple history.

Apples: ambassadors to the world

When it comes to a good story, apples play a central role in quite a few. We have all heard the story of Johnny Appleseed and his campaign to plant apple trees far and wide. How many of us realize that most of those apples were never intended for fresh eating, but rather were destined for the cider press?

The variety known as Newtown Pippin, which originated in the village of Newtown on Long Island, N.Y., played a role in international relations. Touted for its flavor by Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, a basket of Newtown Pippins was given to Queen Victoria in 1838. Shortly thereafter, the British Parliament lifted duties on the variety until World War II and, as a result, this apple became an important export during that time.

The apple traces its origins to Kazakhstan and the area between the Caspian and Black Seas, and it is fascinating to imagine entire forests composed of the genetic combinations from which all of our current apple varieties have been derived. Today, about 2,500 varieties are grown in the United States, and 100 of those are available commercially.

Question of the Week

“I want to plant an apple tree, but our lot is really small. Are there options?” — Dave K, Exeter, N.H.

Dwarf apple trees are a great option for homeowners with little growing space. Dwarf trees only reach a mature height of 6 to 8 feet tall and can be planted at a spacing of just 8 to 10 feet between plants. Apple rootstocks, which serve as the base for grafted trees, are typically categorized into three groups from smallest to largest. Those groups include dwarfing rootstock, semi-dwarf, and standard.

Dwarfing rootstock will result in trees that produce fruit quicker, often in just three to four years. The UNH Cooperative Extension publication entitled Dwarf Rootstocks for Apple Trees in the Home Garden provides more information. In New England, some good disease-resistant varieties are Redfree, Crimson Crisp, Liberty, and Freedom. For additional varietal suggestions, the publication Tree Fruit Varieties for New Hampshire Gardens will provide reliable information.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769 Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

With the right techniques, you can keep harvesting baby kale and other crops deep into the fall.
With the right techniques, you can keep harvesting baby kale and other crops deep into the fall.

Editor’s Note: The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides weekly gardening columns in which Jeremy DeLisle answers questions from local gardeners.

Planting fall greens — don’t delay
For many vegetable gardeners, peak harvest season has passed and we find ourselves solemnly imagining how life will be without the option of harvesting fresh produce for our plates daily. Luckily there is still time to try seeding some cool-season crops that can handle colder temperatures and actually taste better once cool weather arrives.

To start with, you will want to make sure that your soil is well prepared and free of large soil clods and rocks. Most greens seeds are small and won’t germinate as well in such conditions. While working the soil, apply a balanced fertilizer to ensure that your greens are well fed throughout the remainder of the season.

In certain soils that are very clumpy or tend to form a crust when dry, make a very small trench or depression just an eighth-inch deep. I generally use a board turned with a corner pointed down and press lightly to make the depression. The end of a hoe handle can also be used to mark out the row and leave the shallow trench. Seeding into this trench and covering with a fine seed-starting mix or compost will ensure that germinating seedlings can easily push up through the soil surface.

Another good technique for sowing greens mixes is to simply take a metal garden rake — the one with the thick metal teeth — and rake one direction across the bed down the entire length. Do this only to a depth appropriate for the crops you are sowing, often only a quarter-inch deep. This will make several of the shallow planting trenches to hold your seeds. Then broadcast your mix across the entire bed, scattering the seeds so that you have one land every inch or so. Next, simply rake very lightly across the bed again, but this time rake perpendicular to the direction you raked before. This will cover the majority of your greens seeds with enough soil for good germination. That’s it. Water sufficiently to moisten the top inch of soil and seeding is complete.

Once your greens are seeded, they absolutely must remain moist during the germination and establishment period. A watering wand with a gentle shower setting is a good choice to avoid washing soil and seeds out of the rows while watering. The first two weeks from seeding through germination, emergence and early growth are critical where adequate moisture is concerned. Thin seedlings as needed and keep weeds under control, especially early on as the greens become established.

What type of greens can be grown during the late summer, fall, and into winter?
A basic mesclun, or salad mix is a great choice. If you like a bit of a spicy bite in your mix, consider sowing mustards, mizuna, tatsoi, and arugula. You can purchase pre-made mixes or create one tailored to your own taste preferences.

Some crops are hardier than others or simply quicker to grow to a harvestable size. The most reliable group includes spinach, baby kale, tatsoi, and claytonia. Next would be arugula, mizuna, cress, and pac choi, followed by baby lettuces, baby Swiss chard and radishes.

Planting calendars for winter harvest of these crops are available online, and the best of them take into consideration the effect that shorter days have on plant growth rates. All of the crops listed in this article can be grown under protective covering such as a small hoop structure when seeded as late as the third full week in September, while the hardiest options like spinach, baby kale, tatsoi, and claytonia could be seeded up until mid-October. Of course, gardeners farther north would need to plant on the early side for best results.

One of the great things about growing greens late in the season is that many of the pest and disease pressures that we deal with early in the season begin to lighten up. Additionally, the sunny days and cool night temperatures result in higher sugar levels in the plants, which means great flavor on the plate.

Protect your plantings
To really get the most out of your planting, you’ll need to use floating row covers to help protect your greens from cold temperatures, drying winds, and early frosts. This lightweight spun-bonded fabric allows light, water, and air to pass through it, but offers a few degrees of frost protection that could result in a substantially extended harvest season.

Floating row covers get their name because they are actually utilized by some growers by just pulling them over the plants and allowing them to “float” or rest on top. During heavy frosts, the plants can still get burnt where they are in contact with the fabric. To remedy this, use heavy gauge wire, PVC piping, or even metal conduit bent into the shape of an arch and placed every four to five feet down the bed. Essentially, you are making a tiny hoop house with a protected microclimate inside.

Consider using the heavier-weight row covers, which are measured in ounces per square yard. Clear plastic can also be used for this purpose, but much greater care should be taken in managing ventilation to avoid buildup of excess heat and humidity. Adding a layer of clear plastic over the row cover after a few heavy frosts will provide additional protection and extend the harvest further yet. Experimenting with seeding dates, crop mixes, and season extension techniques can result is harvest well into the fall and winter.

Jeremy DeLisle is the program coordinator for the UNH Cooperative Extension Education Center. The center answers questions about gardening and more at answers@unh.edu, or by calling 877-398-4769 Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.