Microgreens. When I first heard this term, I had a vision in my head of some trendy restaurant in California where all the “beautiful” people eat like birds to maintain their figures. A vision of a waiter bringing out a white plate with microscopically small bits of food, aka the micro greens would take up the space of a dime if that. Customers would be given chopsticks and a pair of magnifying glasses so they could actually see where their microgreens were on the plate. They would of course announce how full they were afterwards claiming “I can’t eat another bite, or my pants will pop!”

What are microgreens?

Alas, microgreens are not microscopic, but they are very young plants that pack a nutritional and flavorful punch. Not to be confused with sprouts though which are different than microgreens. There are many differences between the two, mainly the stage of which the plant is harvested and method of growth. Quickly sprouts grow in the dark, in some water and are harvested within 2 to 3 days of germination, right when the sprout literally appears from the seedlings shell. Popular sprouts include mung beans, alfalfa, and red wheat but you can also find sprouting mixes which include radish and broccoli. Whereas microgreens are grown from any vegetable or herb in soil or water. They need sunlight or artificial light to grow and are harvested when the first true leaves (cotyledon leaves) appear on the plants which take closer to 1 to 3 weeks depending upon what’s being grown. Microgreens are smaller than baby greens, however.

Different types of micro greens on white background. Healthy eating concept of fresh garden produce organically grown as a symbol of health and vitamins from nature. Microgreens closeup

Why should I add microgreens to my diet?

Microgreens are also known as super foods since they pack a nutritional punch greater than their mature counterparts. A USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) report showed that quote equal weights in quote of microgreens contain 5 times more nutrients than found in mature leaves. They are an effective way of providing our bodies with the much-needed vitamins and minerals most diets lack. Minerals play a crucial role in the lives or all plants and animals. Humans can experience metabolic disorders, organ damage, disease, if they have mineral deficiencies. It can even be fatal. Calcium, and magnesium are necessary for good bone health and deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis. Microgreens are also rich in antioxidants which are associated with cancer preventing properties. Eating microgreens is therefore a smart choice when it comes to our diets.

When I use the word diet, I use it in the traditional sense of the word not what the Mad Men of Madison Ave bastardized its meaning in the 70’s, 80’s through to today. As far back as the 13th century diet meant “the food and drink we habitually consume” or “a way of life” from the classical Greek word ‘diata’. A diet wasn’t a temporary way of eating to achieve a goal it was simply the food and drink you consumed; some diets healthier than others as they are today.

Microgreens can be a wonderful new addition to everybody’s diets since they are grown from most any herb or vegetable. This huge selection makes it easier to find favorite flavors to include in your daily meals.

Rustic bread toast with mashed avocado, smoked salmon, radish, broccoli sprouts and seeds served in a white plate on a rustic wooden table.

How do you use microgreens?

Microgreens must be eaten raw in order to get the full benefit of their nutritional impact. A little also goes a long way since the flavor is highly concentrated in these greens, much more potent than the mature plants. Microgreens can be easily added into a salad or sandwich, adding color, flavor and texture to your meal. You can also throw them into your smoothies or simply use them as a garnish.

Tower garden has made enjoying growing microgreens at home simple and easy so that health conscious consumers who want to eat healthier and have a constant supply of fresh produce. The USDA’s ARS report also showed that the microgreens available to consumers in the stores are sold in a plastic clamshell container which does not allow for the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide needed for the live greens to breathe. They recommend that microgreens are best grown at home. Sustainably, growing microgreens is a great way for urban families to grow highly nutritional seasonal vegetables at a low cost. Also cutting down on their carbon footprint in the process.

Stand Out Microgreens

Savoy Cabbage microgreens have a good amount of calcium, 98mg per 100grams fresh weight.

Lettuce appears high in vitamin A and carotenoid antioxidants.

Purple Kohlrabi microgreens have a good amount of iron, 0.75mg per 100grams.

Radishes microgreens have a high mineral, vitamins and antioxidants content.

Wasabi microgreens are high in potassium

Popular microgreens to grow

Amaranthaceae Family: amaranth, beats, Shard, quinoa, spinach

Amaryllidaceae Family: chives, garlic, leeks, onions

Apiaceae Family: carrots, dill, celery, fennel  

Asteraceae Family: chicory, endive, lettuce, radicchio

Brassicaceae Family: arugula, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, radish, watercress

Curcurbitaceae Family: cucumbers, melons, squash

Lamiaceae Family: (herbs) mint, basil, Rosemary, sage, oregano

Poaceae Family: (grasses and cereals) barley, corn, rice, oats and wheatgrass also legumes like peas, chickpeas and lentils

Recipes for Microgreens

There are so many uses for microgreens beyond the toss in a salad or throw in a sandwich, both tasty ideas but there is so much more uses for them!

Apple Dijon Grilled Cheese with Ham and Brie with Microgreens  

Garlic and Lemon Pasta with Arugula Microgreens

Sunflower Guacomole

Our microgreens are about ready to enjoy in the next few days, perhaps we will toss them into a salad or a wrap! No wait, Pizza With Pesto, Mozzarella, And Arugula Microgreens — to many choices. Happy Gardening!


USDA – ARS 2017 – Microgreens

ARS 2017 – Eat Your Greens- Microgreens

Dr. Weil – What Are Microgreens

27 Days until Spring

In less than a month spring will officially be here – at least on the calendar. For many people who live in the northern parts of our country (zones 2-5) snow may still be blanketing our gardens. We live in zone 5, 1500 feet up on the side of a mountain where currently our garden is encased in at least 3 feet of snow. I take solace in the fact though knowing that underneath it all there are carrots and garlic seed which were planted in the fall patiently waiting to resume the growth they started before going dormant to be awakened by the spring sun thawing their winter cover.

winter Garden 2020
Our garden buried under the snow.

In about two weeks we will set our clocks forward to observe Daylight Saving Time. The time of year where we try to deceive ourselves in to thinking the day is suddenly longer. There’s a meme on the internet which points to the ridiculousness of this and personally it messes me and the dogs up for months.

But the hours of light are increasing and that is a psychological boost signaling to gardeners that we are approaching the growing season and it’s time to get ready. Seed catalogs are coming in the mail weekly and have been since mid January. Now is the time to get start taking inventory of your leftover seeds from last season. If you think they are old and may not geminate – give them a test. You can look back my post from February 2019 “It’s February! What Should I do in My Garden?” to read how to test your seeds.

  • What Do Do in February

    • Take stock of your seed inventory

    • Test germination

    • Plan this season’s garden on paper or your computer

    • Order new seeds and plant starts

I ordered our seed potatoes early from The Maine Kitchen Lady in late January. I waited too long last year thinking I had already placed the order but discovered in March much to my chagrin that I never hit send and the stuff was sitting in the cart. Unfortunately for me some varieties had already sold out by then leaving me with less than I had originally wanted to order. I love growing potatoes and varieties which are available for those of us who choose to grow our own is spectacular. I believe I ordered some sweet potato starts as well. Keeping a log book is always a good idea I have found since I always forget what I ordered and that’s how I discovered last March that I hadn’t placed the seed potato order when I thought!

heirloom potatoes
Homegrown potatoes

There’s lots to do to properly prepare for the growing season. For some who have the space you may want to be starting to seed some starts. I don’t have the space anymore and it can be a lot of work but it can be well worth the extra effort. This year we are getting a jumpstart on the season with our new Tower Garden HOME, the latest product from Tower Garden which we sell online. We are big believers in the use of Tower Gardens for homeowners, school and restaurants. They are a great way to garden in a small soil-less space that’s clean and easy. Since we just set up our unit 11 days ago, we are test-driving the product for an upcoming product review. We try to always use any of the products that we sell in the Homegrown Harvest Store and we have installed ourselves and used all of the raised garden bed kits that we carry.

Tower Garden HOME
Our Tower Garden HOME unit 11 days after setup.

So here’s to the coming of spring and the increasing light of the day! May the sun warm our earth and ourselves, helping both to continue to grow.

Happy Gardening!

Constantly Playing Catch-Up, While Actually Making Salsa

It’s been a busy quarter around here. The end of the season turned out to be very prolific with our final harvest of tomatoes being taken in due to a frost warning. It was time though. On three other occasions, we averted a light frost by covering up the garden with tarps on the nights we knew there was a threat. This took some doing since the plants were large and growing around bean cages, we prefer those since they are sturdier and tall enough to support a healthy growing tomato plant. The tomatoes were taking their own sweet time to ripen, cool nights and not a tremendously hot summer seemed to make the growth in the garden slow in comparison to our days growing down in Connecticut (zone 6) and in the end we ended up picking over three grocery bags worth of green tomatoes, plus two large bowls and one colanders worth of ripe tomatoes of all sizes.

Last year I canned 10 gallons of tomato sauce which we still have some left over which is odd since we used to go through it so fast. We always had to try to extend it into the next season when at least some fresh tomatoes were in season. But I don’t think we ever put up that much sauce before. Plus I don’t think we ate as much pasta last year overall.

This year I opted to make salsa. I have tried one other time and remembered it being simpler than making sauce. You don’t cook it as long as you do a sauce cutting the time down thus making it feel easier. I love making salsa and have finally discovered another way to use Mark’s ridiculously hot peppers in a way we can enjoy without just tasting the heat. I actually enjoy using a variety of peppers with a varying amount of heat, some jalapeños, serranos, habaneros…Mark likes to get a variety of hot peppers including the super hot ones like the Carolina Reaper!

A variety of Mark’s hot peppers

Although hot peppers can be a bit finicky when it comes to growing up in zone 5, 1500ft up on the side of a mountain. I’ve discovered that the deck and on the stairs in our containers has been as successful, if not a bit more so, than in our raised garden beds.

Next year I will plant more bell peppers as well as hot peppers and onions. Although truth be told I was disappointed with my bell pepper outcome – again they seemed to take forever to finally flower and ripen. I did plant more onions this year but I think even more can be added to the garden. Garlic, we have covered pretty well since we were able use plenty of our own bulbs for next season, although as I type this I am second guessing myself and feel compelled to run out and perhaps add a few more. You can never have enough garlic in my opinion. Fresh compost was added to the garden beds and still have one more bag from our Food Cycler compost that needs to be carried over to the garden and dumped in a bed or two. I seeded a few overwintering carrots (Merida) and peas and some Winter Density lettuce under the cold frames as well. I started to cover the raised garden beds with a generous layer of sterile hay/straw blend (around 3″ thick) everywhere except under the cold frames – although I may throw a thinner layer in there as well. We get wicked cold winters up here, 139″ of snow last season and although that soil will be protected under the cold frame – a thin layer could be helpful.

Recipe for the Best Homemade Salsa for Canning

I used that recipe as a guide and added here and there.
Here’s what I did:
9 cups chopped tomatoes – they recommend peeling first, but I don’t bother since a lot of nutrients are in the skin
3 cups, chopped green peppers
3 cups chopped white onions – I used yellow and purple because that’s what I grew primarily
3-4 jalapenos, chopped
1 Albino hot pepper or Hot Portugal pepper
8 cloves garlic, chopped
6 teaspoons canning salt
1 cup white vinegar
12 oz can of tomato paste
a dash of Peri Peri Mozambique blend from the Spice House

As the first days of November, I still have some fresh potatoes that I can enjoy. Last night we ate some simply made with some olive oil and Greektown, another spice from the Spice House. [FYI – I get nothing from them for recommending them, I just really love their spices and blends]. I have already make and frozen some soup, unfortunately not as much as I would have liked – I forgot to order some seed potatoes early and I didn’t have a chance to get as many as I would have liked. I have to remember to set a calendar reminder for February, maybe even the last week of January. The best stuff always goes first – that’s just the way life works. That’s why I try to plan ahead and get my orders in early.

This month I will be cooking. I will be trying to use up all my fresh homegrown tomatoes in more salsa and possibly some sauce. From there I will turn my attention to the delicious dishes that center around my birthday and Thanksgiving. My day before Thanksgiving birthday will probably be filled with me preparing the side dishes and doing whatever other prep work will need to be done for the day. Thankfully its a small gathering, so I can focus on what’s important that day which is the family.

Q&A Thursday Live – July 11th, 2019

We get a lot of questions from clients about growing garlic – so we are going to discuss that today. The number one question we are asked about growing garlic is when can I harvest my garlic?  

Garlic is great to grow – easy, low maintenance Garlic is planted in the fall – beginning it’s growth in late fall and goes dormant in the winter to spring to life and continue its growth cycle in the early spring as the ground thaws.  Garlic continues to grow throughout the summer, sprouting leaves and a long flower bud that shoots up from the center of the bulb. This is the scape which is at the end produces a seed bulb and can usually be seen developing on the garlic plants around the end of June or early July depending on the zone you are in (even as early as May in some warmer zones!) Up here on the mountain in zone 5b we saw our scapes develop the first week of July. By cutting the scape from the plant, you signal to the plant that the energy gets sent down to the bulb, so it grows larger and more full.

Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes in the garden

Scapes are wonderful to use while cooking, as they give off a milder garlic flavor than the bulb. Scapes are healthy filled with essential nutrients and minerals; they are low in calories, high in fiber, vitamin C and provitamin A.

Scapes can be used in soups and salads; are good roasted or fried; and they make a wonderful pesto. Check out of our Recipes page of our blog for more info on roasting scapes and making pesto with them.

Another question we are asked quite often is when is it time to harvest my garlic?

Garlic is easy to grow and relatively low maintenance compared to other vegetables and harvest time is no different. Shortly after you have harvested your scapes – about a month later – the leaves of the garlic plants will turn brown and yellow. The you begin to notice the change stop watering, this is about 2- 3 weeks before harvest. On the calendar, in zones 5-6, this is around mid July through August, warmer zones this will be earlier in the summer. When 75% of the plant has changed to yellow and brown, it’s time to harvest your garlic. If you wait until the entire plant has turned you run the risk of the outer skin of the bulbs will shed too.

July 11, 2019 Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday

Homegrown Harvest Q&A Thursday

Every Thursday live on Instagram @homegrown_harvest answers questions from followers about gardening and sustainable living. If you have any questions you would like answered, we would love to help out. Send your questions to info@homegrownharvest.com.

I found a slug on my lettuce that’s no my Tower Garden, what can I do?

We recommend using copper foil tape – copper gives them a very mild shock since their slime reacts with the copper.  If you see slugs or snails – hand pick them off and put into a container of soapy water.

If you’re using a Tower Garden put the copper foil tape around the base of the unit, so they won’t be able to crawl up the sides. 

If you’re using a container – you can place the copper-foiled tape around the container.

You can also find copper sheets which can easily be cut with tin snips to create bands that you can use to place around the base of the individual plants or raised beds.

Some people recommend Diatomaceous Earth; however, I recently read recently that DE can harm bees – because the power gets on them and they take it back to the hive where it does some damage.

It’s mid-June what should I be doing in the garden?

At this time of year there are plenty of things that need and can be done in the garden. Tall plants should staked by now, so be sure that supports have been put in for your tomatoes, bean, cucumbers and other vertical growing veggies that ultimately will need to support to thrive.

Succession planting is something else to think about this time of year. Seeding fast growing veggies – crops like carrots, bush beans, radishes, etc… will help crowd out potential weeds from taking root and give you more produce to enjoy.

Once you are done with transplanting and seeding, we recommend putting down some mulch, like weed-free straw or shredded leaf mulch. Mulching will allow you to decrease watering, prevent weed growth and helps reduce soil-borne diseases from building up.

Mid June is a good time to throw some light-weight netting over your strawberry patches & blueberry bushes to protect them from hungry birds.

Also, during today’s show, Mark and I talked about a survey about Americans most favorite and least favorite vegetables and about snapdragons! You can find our Homegrown Harvest Live videos on our new You Tube channel.

Homegrown Harvest Q&A Thursday Live!

Thursday – May 23, 2019

Every Thursday live on Instagram @homegrown_harvest answers questions from followers about gardening and sustainable living. If you have any questions you would like answered, we would love to help out. Send your questions to info@homegrownharvest.com.

I am worried about my newly planted seeds washing away in these torrential rains. What can I do?

  • Put a light layer of pine straw as a mulch to help hold things in place and diffuse the heavy water.

My compost this spring didn’t seem ready. I have a black plastic box. I was ill this winter and didn’t turn the lawn mowed leaves from last fall. I put in some organic compost starter to get it moving. Does my compost need to be as broken down as what comes in the bags to spread in the garden?

The short answer is yes it should look like what comes out of the bag if you were to buy it. Compost is ready when it looks dark brown in color, feels like rich crumbly earth, and smells like rich earth. It should not smell like rotting vegetables – nor should you be able to recognize any kitchen scraps or garden refuse.

It’s important that your compost is ready since it does contain substances which can be damaging to plants such as acids and pathogens which need to go through the complete process of decomposition to be safe to use.  Plus, nitrogen and oxygen are used during the process and would not be available for the plants use if the soil is still using it to decompose matter.

Hot piles require regular turning – which may be one reason your compost didn’t’ seem ready since you were sick. Also since you didn’t add your mowed trimmings you may have not had the regular balance you always have of nitrogen to carbon (greens to browns) which also effect the rate of decomposition. Composting requires the right balance of carbons to nitrogen (brown matter to green matter). 2:1 carbon to nitrogen for hot composting and 3:1 carbon to nitrogen for cold composting.

Screen your mulch and pick out large things that haven’t decomposed that take a long time like avocado pits and corn cobs – throw then back in to the compose – they will eventually break down

Last year my basil was three feet tall. This year I can’t get it to grow at all. Good irrigated soil, same location. I do see some tiny holes in lower leaves. Any suggestions?

You may have a soil borne disease building up in your soil.  Although herbs are not as susceptible to soil borne diseases like other vegetables, we recommend rotating herbs along with your other crops. Also like other crops, herbs will benefit from having some fresh compost put in the area where it’s to be planted. Pruning your basil also helps it to thrive.

You can watch our Homegrown Harvest Live videos on our new YouTube Channel and this episode which aired May 23, 2019.

Potato- Potahtoe

Every springtime I wait like an excited child at the window to see the dandelions come into bloom. It’s one of the signs that nature tells me it’s time to plant the potatoes. We love homegrown potatoes as much as we love tomatoes. Just like with most fruits, vegetables, and herbs, there is a greater variety of homegrown choices to chose from than you will ever find at the supermarket or farmer’s market. We plan our garden with our stomachs in mind; meaning we know the types of things we like to cook and plant accordingly.One of our favorite things we like make from our harvests is potato soup. We make and then freeze portions of the soup so that we can easily take out and enjoy a delicious homegrown home-cooked meals anytime for lunch or dinner. We find this is really handy for those winter days where we are too tired to start something from scratch but are hungry.

Earlier this week on Instagram @homegrown_harvest did our weekly Monday live broadcast. We just started to broadcast live on Instagram and then rebroadcast the shows on Facebook and Pinterest. We are beginners at podcasting but we love sharing with people our knowledge about gardening and try to show them that gardening doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating. Growing your own food can be simple and fun.

Smart pot and some organic rich soil

When we grow potatoes we like to use grow bags. We started growing this way years ago since Mark likes to grow a surplus of tomatoes and didn’t want to give up any planting space and have less tomatoes. Tomatoes and potatoes are both in the same family, solanaceous crops are susceptible to the same diseases so it’s not recommended to plant them in the same raised beds, as you risk losing both crops.

If you are interested in growing potatoes, you first need to get some seed potatoes. It’s not recommended that you use the old potatoes from the grocery store. Varieties that are grown by farms for commercial use are chosen for their ability to travel from farm to table which averages 1500 miles. Flavor is not taken into consideration and aren’t we all tired of the same selection of potatoes the grocery store has to offer?

The other place I have ordered from is John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. This spring I bought some of their Red Sonia potatoes another yellow fleshed potato that looks like a pre-buttered, melt in your mouth morsel of tasty goodness. I’m a sucker for delicious sounding descriptions of herbs, fruits and vegetables, that I tend to go crazy wanting to try this that and the other thing.

A variety of Nicola, Red Gold and Desiree potatoes

The varieties offered come in amazing colors, tastes and textures. We fell in love with German Butterball after I made one of the creamiest most delicious soups. I remember the potatoes looked as if they have been previously buttered but they had not been. The Maine Potato Lady, who is one of my potato seed go-to websites, describes it as being a versatile “round to oblong tuber …this beauty is superb for everything – frying, baking, mashing, soups.”

Finally I recommend once you do find a variety that you like, you begin to save your own seed potatoes. We saved many seed potatoes from last year’s harvests and are looking forward to some repeat performers like Nicola, Desiree and Red Gold.

Step by Step to growing potatoes in sacks

  1. Fill sack with 2′ -3′ of organic rich soil mixed with aged compost or manure.
  2. Place 4- 5 seed potatoes in the sack -place one in middle. To place the other seed potatoes think of the bottom like a clock and place one at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
  3. Cover the seed potatoes with 2″- 4″ of soil.
  4. water the sacks daily and keep and eye for growth of green leaves. As the leaves appear continue to cover with 2″- 4′ inches of soil until your grow bag is full.
  5. Harvest your potatoes once all the flowers have bloomed and a majority of the plant is dead. Store, cook and enjoy!

As I mentioned earlier, we started to grow potatoes in the sacks: one because we didn’t want to give up planting space, and two, I had tried it once in one of the raised beds and found it difficult to hill and was worried about the ones that grew near the surface would green. Which is why you need to hill potatoes properly to prevent greening which is not only bad for your potatoes but can be toxic. I also found harvesting the potatoes to be difficult and a pain in the butt. The grow bags make harvesting the potatoes a snap since all you have to do is overturn the bags and finding the harvest becomes like an easter egg hunt. We reuse our soil filling in areas that have eroded; adding it to our compost to replenish the nutrients that the potatoes have used up. This will be the 6th year we have been growing our potatoes in grow bags, I have never felt the need to try to go back to growing potatoes any other way. We have always been happy with the yields and never had a problem with drainage since the bags are essentially designed to allow for drainage and air flow.

Harvesting our potatoes

The other reason we enjoy using the grow bags in our garden is the flexibility they offer us in the garden. Year after year, the bags can be reused and at the end of each harvest once you empty them – they can be folded up and stored away. Once the grow bags are filled to the top I add companion plants to the tops such as some basil, parsley or thyme which help to enhance the flavor of the tubers. Beans help to add nitrogen into the soil so I will add some bush beans in and finally flowers like petunias and marigolds. There are plenty of other companion plants that can be added to your potato sacks depending upon your tastes – lettuce and radishes are also great companions and quick growers so you can seed more than one crop during the growing season.

During our live broadcast, Mark and I talked about our favorite potato soup recipe that we like to make which is actually thanks to one of our favorite shows, The Pioneer Woman. Ree’s Perfect Potato soup is so easy to make and tastes delicious. Contrary to Mark’s memory, there is some milk and cream in the recipe but not a lot and when you grow potatoes that are perfect for making creamy soups, I find you can cut down on the added dairy.


Trying new things is a part of enjoying life. Fear of the unknown, or failure tends to hold too many people back from even trying new things. Whether it’s learning to grow food in fabric bags, grow a new variety of a vegetable you have never grown before or starting a gardening podcast – taking the first steps can be hardest part, but the fruits of our labors can be so incredibly satisfying.

Homegrown Harvest Live! Q&A Thursday

Every Thursday live on Instagram @homegrown_harvest answers questions from followers about gardening and sustainable living. If you have any questions you would like answered, we would love to help out. Send your questions to info@homegrownharvest.com.

Can the newish full spectrum LED home light bulbs do double duty as grow lights?

  • The short answer is yes – the words full spectrum give you a clue that it includes the full light spectrum
  • However, plants only need 2/3 of the spectrum to grow so therefore you would be wasting 1/3 of the energy the light is putting out.
  • Horticultural LED bulbs are inexpensive and deliver the exact type of light plants and flowers need to thrive indoors.

I recently learned that daylilies are edible and already knew pansies and roses were too. Can you recommend some other edible ornamentals?First, as far as edible flowers goes, its important to stress that you need to know EXACTLY what you are eating and check with your doctor first and talk to a plant specialist. There are some plants which may be dangerous to you if you have certain conditions.

There are plenty of edible flowers which can be added to our gardens and plates. But it’s important to know about the plants we would like to consume and what they can do for or to us. It’s highly recommended that you always use flowers sparingly as digestive complications can occur with large consumption rate.

Cooking with flowers has been around since the early Romans and is a part of Chinese, Middle Eastern & Indian cultures. Not every flower or plant is edible and sometimes the flower may be edible but the foliage is not; or it may be edible only after cooking. Also never harvest flowers or plants that have pesticides or other chemicals on it if you plan to eat and NEVER harvest plants/flowers by the roadside.

  • Some flowers are edible but it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be eaten. For instance waxed begonias are edible but taste bitter and can taste swampy. Other begonias are edible as well but if you have gout, kidney stones or rheumatism – you should stay away from these.
  • Calendula has a start taste similar to saffron and is actually called Poor Man’s saffron. Sprinkle on soups, pasta, or rice dishes, herbed butters and salads
  • Carnations – petals are sweet – don’t eat the bitter white base of the flower; carnation petals are the secret ingredient in the French liqueur, Chartreuse since the 17th century  
  • Chrysanthemums – flavors range from faint peppery to mild cauliflower; should be blanched; leaves are used to flavor vinegar – always remove the bitter flower base.
  • Dandelions – good raw or steamed, made into wine, sweet when picked young, buds tastier than the flowers.
  • Fuchsia blooms have a slimly acidic flavor, berries are also edible
  • Hibiscus – cranberry-like, dried to make tea.
  • Johnny-jumps ups have a mild wintergreen flavor, good in sales, add in drinks, soups, dessert and salads
  • Nasturtiums are a sweet, yet spicy flavor similar to watercress. Stuff the flowers and add the leaves in a salad to add a peppery tang.
  • Violets have a sweet perfumed flavor, related to pansies, violas and johnny-jump ups; use the tender leaves and flowers in salads, cold drinks and desserts; the heart shaped leaves when cooked taste like spinach.

Big Bug, Little Bug, Bad Bug, Good Bug

If you are anything like my sister – you don’t like bugs. When she was young, she would stare up at the ceiling trying to spot them for her older siblings to kill. I believe it all stemmed from a traumatic moment she got trapped on the landing of our stairs at our country house by what she believed to be a giant green bug. It was in reality a leaf that had blown in the front door which she happened to be standing next to at the time. She was only three years old at the time – I, on the other hand, was ten and thought it hilarious and tease her to this day about it. Theoretically, she gets the concept that good bugs exist in this world which is fine as long as they stay out her sight and not in her house.

For gardeners, bugs and insects are a reality we have to deal with, but not all bugs are bad. Beneficial insects are some of the most important contributors in a garden since they are the natural defense system against “bad” bugs which can devastate our crops.  Insects are an important part of our ecosystem; we need them for decomposition & pollination. They also produce products such as silk, wax and honey, even medicine. Most people are familiar with beneficials such as bees, and butterflies but there are many other beneficials which contribute to the balance of nature.

VIETNAM – CIRCA 1982: A Stamp printed in VIETNAM shows the image of a Assassin Bug with the description “Sycanus falleni Stal” from the series “Chinch Bugs”, circa 1982

Some beneficials have scary names which are intimidating alone. For instance, the Assassin Bug, which there are actually many different species of assassin bugs in North America. They generally have long spindly legs, narrow heads and broad bodies. Assassins help control aphids, cabbage worms, Colorado bean beetles, cutworms, earwigs, four-lined plant bugs, Japanese beetles, lace bugs, Mexican bean beetles, tobacco budworms, and many caterpillars.  The assassin bug pierce their prey using their long beaks and then injects a lethal toxin that kills the insect instantly, liquifying their insides which the assassin bug feeds on the liquified tissue, leaving behind an empty shell. So, if you find empty shells of insects you will know you have assassin bugs.

One of the insects that assassin bugs go after are earwigs, which like to feed on a wide range of flowers, fruit and foliage.  Favorite crops of the earwig include artichokes, bean seedlings, corn silk, lettuce, potatoes, roses, peaches and apricots, strawberries and zinnias. If you find that your leaves have a bunch of ragged holes you may have earwigs, although caterpillars leave behind similar damage.  Earwigs like to feed on dead and decaying plant matter as well.  If you need to deal with earwigs, keep your garden clean of dying and dead debris. You can also trap them in shallow containers filled with vegetable oil. Or try to put rolled newspaper into a cardboard tubes and place near your plants. Earwigs like to crawl into tunnels, and you can easily dispose of them in the morning.

small brown earwig, hidden in a flower.

Earwigs will not attack humans, despite their formidable appearance with their easily recognizable pincers, and contrary to folklore they won’t crawl into our ears despite liking to crawl into dark, small places.  Initially introduced to North America in the early 1900s, they came across in cargo and on ships and have been plaguing our gardens and farm ever since.

Insects are the most diverse group of organisms with more species of insects than any other group. In the United States there are an estimated 91,000 species which is why going forward, I will write more about big bugs, little bugs, good bugs, and bad bugs on occasion to educate myself and others about the organisms in our gardens.

Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday

Welcome to Homegrown Harvest Live Q&A Thursday! Every Thursday at 2pm, Mark and Xine answer questions related to gardening or sustainable living from followers during their live podcast aired on Instagram @homegrown_harvest

Daphne from Connecticut – Zone 6b asks “How do you take care of a Ranunculus Mache Pastel flowers? Am I supposed to prune this thing, how often do I water it, do I planted into the ground?

Tecolote Ranunculus – incredibly bold colors, make for great cut flowers with extended vase life. They need bright sun, rich soil and light watering – if planted needs to be in well drained area

In zones 8 and warmer they can be planted in the fall. In zone 7 and colder, plant bulbs in the springtime or plant in containers.

When choosing a container, you always need to be sure to pick the right size container for the plant you are growing. For ranunculus bulbs leave 3- 4 inches between the bulbs, and plant 2” deep in the container. Once there is no threat of a frost put the container outside in a sunny spot.

Ranunculus are perennials in warm climates zone 8 and higher; whereas zone 7 and lower the plant acts as an annual, so you have to start over the following spring with new bulbs

As a cut flower they can last up to 10 days!

Kristin from Connecticut – zone 6 writes in that she mulches her garden beds and the property slopes downward. What is the best mulch that will stay put in heavy rains?

All mulches will float and wash away in a flood but some stay put better than others. Pine straw is highly recommended since the needles entwine and it help it stay put better than wood chips or bark nuggets which float off onto the lawn. Shredded bark or wood is good, something with pieces that tangle and hold onto one another. 

Ideally if you can edge your garden with something high enough to hold the mulch in place – stones, wood that helps. You can also use other plants plie monkey grass of hostas or a type of ground cover as a protective border to keep the mulch in. Trenching a 3- 4” deep moat around the bed will help geep the mulch from floating off. 

The Idaho Dept of Environmental Quality recommends that mulches that as meant to last longer than 3 months on slopes steeper than 50% – you use straw or hay held in place by netting. And they don’t recommend using wood chips if the slope is steeper than 6%, because they wash away.

Kristin, I would use pine straw and depending on your slope possibly throw some netting down and tack it down with landscape fabric stakes.

Carolyn from Connecticut asks what is the best time to prune ones rose bushes?

The trick about pruning is timing since if you do it too soon, you run the risk of having new growth stimulated during a warm spell which could be killed later by a freeze.  Prune too late and your plant misses the spring bloom.  So how do you know?

One trick is if you live in an area where there are forsythias -wait until the forsythias are in bloom. Forsythias only bloom when the soil temperature is 55° of warmer in the first 6 inches of soil depth – this is a natural indicator that it’s the perfect time to prune your roses.  If you don’t live in an area where there are forsythias – early spring after the last frost in colder climates, when they start to bud or leaf out. If you have a soil thermometer again you are looking for 55°.