The Flowers That Bloom on My Onions

The vegetable crops we grow have specific parts that are edible. For example, we grow tomato, cucumber, eggplant, etc. for their fruit. For these plants to produce fruits, they have to produce flowers. Those flowers must then be pollinated. Pollination brings together two sets of chromosomes, which results in viable seeds which can be planted next year to continue the species. Pollination also causes the ovaries which contain these seeds to swell in size. These swollen make up the fruits – the tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, etc. – that we consume as fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, we grow other vegetable crops not for their fruits, but for other edible plant parts. Onions, for example, are grown for their fleshy bulbs (which are actually modified leaf tissue). We grow carrots and parsnips for their roots, and we grow greens such as lettuce, spinach, kale, etc. for their leaves. We do not want flowers on these plants. If one of these plants produces a flower, the edible quality of those plants is reduced, since the plant will then put all of its energy into the flower and less into the leaves, stems, and other edible parts.

Under certain conditions, plants such as onions, carrots and greens will produce a flower. This can arise due to cold temperatures (onions) or hot temperatures (lettuce, spinach, and other greens). The unwanted production of a flower is known as bolting.

onion-flowers-bolting-seeds

So how do we prevent bolting? For greens, bolting can be prevented by planting and harvesting them during the cool weather seasons. Lettuce and spinach grown in hot weather have a greater chance of bolting than does spring or fall-planted spinach.

Onion flowering can occur at low temperatures, a process called vernalization. This can happen when planting onion sets that have been stored at temperatures of 40-50oF for two or more weeks are planted right away. To prevent vernalization, expose them to 80oF temperatures for 2-3 weeks, or make sure to plant them early in the spring. To further reduce the chances of growing flowers instead of bulbs, plant onion sets that are half an inch in diameter. These smaller sized sets lack the necessary food reserves for flower production. Larger sized sets have a greater quantity of stored food and are more subject to vernalization. These, however, can be grown for green onions.

Carrots are biennials. They will produce stem, leaves and taproot the first year. If left in the ground over the winter, the following spring, they will produce a flower similar to that of a Queen Anne’s lace. Usually we never see flowers on our carrots because we harvest the roots the first year. However, if you leave carrots in the ground to overwinter, make sure you dig them up before they start to sprout, otherwise, if allowed to flower, the roots will not taste good.

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Flowers are beautiful and necessary, but only on certain garden plants. If you want your greens, bulbs, and root crops to be tasty, then don’t let them flower.

Variety is the Spice of Your Garden

 

On many occasions, when people talk to me about their gardens, they will often ask me about why a certain vegetable crop they planted failed to perform as expected. Perhaps their tomato plants produced little or no fruit, or their cucumbers had a white powdery growth, or their beans failed to grow at all. When I’m asked why they didn’t do well or what they did wrong, I’ll often ask them what cultivar or variety they planted. And nine times out of ten, the answer I get is some variation of, “Oh I don’t know what variety they were; they were just tomato plants I bought at Wal-Mart.” And therein lies the problem, or at least a good portion of the problem.

Allow me to ask a question. When you need to purchase personal transportation, do you go out and buy “a car?” When you need a reliable communication device, do you purchase “a cell phone?” When you need a machine to automatically clean your dishes, do you buy “a dishwasher?” The answer to all three questions is no. You don’t buy a car; you buy a Ford or a Toyota. You don’t buy a cell phone; you purchase an iPhone or an Android. And you don’t shell out your hard earned money for a dishwasher; you buy a Maytag or a Whirlpool. And furthermore, you carefully research your purchases before you dole out your dollars to make sure you are getting something that has all the features you need with a quality that will last at a price you can afford. And why? So that you can be assured that you can drive safely, communicate effectively, and get your dishes sparkling clean. Now if you’re going to go through all this trouble with machines, wouldn’t you want to put at least this much effort into the food you grow and eat?

Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and other garden vegetables all have what are known as cultivars. These are different genetic versions of the same plant. These different genetic variations result in different colors, shapes, sizes, hardiness, flavor, and disease resistance within the same type of plant.

For example, a Sweet 100 is a small cherry tomato, while a Big Zac is large, meaty Beefsteak tomato. A Thumbelina is a small, round, yellow carrot, while a Purple Dragon is a large, long, purple carrot. A Thumbelina and a Purple Dragon are both a carrot, yet they’re quite different from one another.

Carrots

So why does this matter? Because just as you want to choose a brand of car that’s suits your lifestyle and driving habits and preferences, you want to choose cultivars of garden vegetables that will have the color and flavor that best delights your eye and tickles your taste buds, resistance to specific diseases (if you’ve had past problems with those diseases), and overall, the greatest chance of success in your garden.

Have your tomatoes produced poorly due to late blight? Then you’ll want to plant a cultivar such as Defiant, which is specifically bred to resist late blight. Do you want to grow a drought-resistant flour corn? Hopi Blue will meet your needs. Do you have hard blocky soil? Planting a standard carrot will result in forked, misshapen roots. Thumbelina carrots produce small, orange, almost round roots that are perfect for firmer soils.

The point of all of this is that if you want a garden that yields large amounts of tasty, mouth-watering vegetables, you’ll have to do a little more than throw some seeds into the dirt, water them, and hope for the best. You’ve got to put as much thought and care into buying your seeds and plants as you would into buying a car or a dishwasher. You’ve got to decide what vegetables you want to plant and then find the cultivars of those vegetables that have the traits that will best meet your wants and needs.

Doing this will most definitely improve your odds of having a successful, high-yielding garden.

Support Your Local Farmers Market

Farmers Market

 

They show up every spring; they’re here through September or October; then they’re gone for the year. Nearly every town and city has one, and they are growing in popularity. I’m speaking, of course, about farmers markets, and, next to your own garden, they are one of the best sources of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll find. In addition, you’ll find vendors that sell baked goods, meats, soaps, spices, eggs, and honey straight from the hive. Some even have live music provided by local talent.

 
Most farmers market vendors accept cash only as payment for their wares, but some will accept credit and debit cards. A few farmers markets are set up to accept food stamps and their equivalents — a wonderful way to provide good nutrition to lower income people.

 
But just as a movie theater needs butts in seats to survive, farmers markets need bodies in their booths to stay alive. So I encourage everyone to patronize their local farmers market. Yes, we should all plant our gardens and grow our own food. I encourage that; that’s what I’m all about. But a garden is merely a means to a goal — providing a consistent supply of fresh produce that hasn’t been tainted with potentially harmful chemicals. Farmers markets can be another means of helping you to reach that goal. Though you may have your own garden, your space for it is limited. As much as we may like to, we gardeners cannot grow everything. Furthermore, due to city ordinances, many of us cannot raise our own chickens or keep our own beehives. Farmers markets, with their wide array of fresh food offerings, can provide for us the items that we cannot produce for ourselves. And when you buy from a farmers market, you’re helping small family farm operations to stay in business.

 
So get yourself down to your local farmers market and avail yourself of all the wonderful fresh offerings. It’s good for you, good for your family, good for farmers, good for the economy, and good for America!

 
I’m The Garden Troubadour, and I approved this message!

Vegetables of a Different Color

Tomatoes are red. Carrots are orange. Cauliflower is white. And corn is yellow. And so it shall always be.

Not true. Well, at least not entirely true. Yes, most of the time, the aforementioned vegetables are the aforementioned colors. But not always. Did you know that there are purple carrots? Yellow cauliflower. Black tomatoes. And corn that is a veritable rainbow.

Purple Dragon Carrot Cheddar CauliflowerBlack Krim Tomato  Rainbow Corn

Wait, is something wrong with these vegetables? Not at all. But they may seem strange to some of us who are used to buying our fruits and vegetables from supermarkets. Supermarkets have to offer produce that appeals to the masses. They may not make much money selling fruits and veggies that are anything other than the color that the mass population expects.

We humans have it in our heads that food has to be a certain color, or else something is wrong with it. Eggs have to be a golden yellow. Butter also has to be yellow. That’s why poultry producers feed their chickens corn gluten meal to give the eggs that bright yellow. It’s also why color is added to butter.

I once used this mindset to play a prank on two of my college roommates. I waited for a day when both were away from our apartment. Then I grabbed my food coloring, opened the refrigerator door, and went to work. By the time I had finished, we had purple pickles, blue Thousand Island dressing, mustard that looked like guacamole, and my personal favorite — the green milk.

Green Milk

There was absolutely nothing wrong with these foods. They were still the same as before I “enhanced” them. But my roommates refused to touch them. I, on the other hand, had lots of fun pouring myself a glass of green milk, getting my roommates’ attention, yelling, “Bottoms up!” and drinking it down.

The point of all of this is that vegetables of a different color offer you the chance to be creative with your crops. An orange carrot is an orange carrot. But if you serve purple carrots at your next dinner party, I guarantee that your guests will remember that for a long time to come.

So go ahead and be creative. Step outside the color box and try something different. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour myself a nice tall glass of green milk. Bottoms up!

Drowning in Zucchini; Flooded With Tomatoes

All of your hard work has paid off! All of the sweating, digging, and back-breaking work is producing dividends in the form of tempting mouth-pleasing tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, etc. But holy cow, you didn’t expect dividends like this! Your kitchen counter is overflowing with zucchini; your kitchen table is piled high and wide with tomatoes, and if you add one more cucumber to your refrigerator, it will explode. What in the world are you going to do with all of this?

DSCN7100 Zucchini Excess DSCN8102

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Well, giving the excess to family and friends is usually the first solution. Most people love fresh fruits and vegetables (especially when they don’t have to pay for it) and are more than happy to take some of the excess off your hands. But this solution does have its limits, and eventually your friends and family will start barring the door when they see you coming with an armload of zucchini.

A second solution is to preserve the excess through canning, freezing, drying, or winter storage. Properly preserved produce can be stored away in your kitchen or basement. Then when you have a hankering for beans, carrots, or any other produce, you won’t have to make a special trip to the grocery store (perhaps in the snow?) to spend your hard earned money on inferior produce. Your own supply will be right there at your fingertips — and it will look and taste a whole lot better too.

Third, you can use the surplus harvest in a wide variety of recipes. Chutneys, salsas, salads, breads — the possibilities are endless. Don’t have any recipes? Check a cookbook out of your local library or download some recipes from the internet. You can prepare the recipes early in the week and have plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week. Or you can bring the finished products to your next dinner party. While your friends are oohing and ahhing over what a tasty dish you’ve prepared, you can gain additional brownie points when you tell them that you not only prepared the dish from scratch, you also grew the vegetables yourself.

Lastly, you can always bring the excess to a food bank. Believe me, they can never have too much fresh produce, and they will be more than happy to take the excess off your hands. It’s a wonderful way to give away your surplus yield and also help those in your community who have fallen on hard times.

Having more produce than you can use is an excellent problem to have! Best of all it’s a problem with many wonderful solutions. So if your garden fruit and vegetable cup runneth over, then implement one of these solutions today.