Tag Archives: zucchini

Fairly Snarky

The Snarky Gardener entered his vegetables in the local county fair.  Now the Snarky Girlfriend will never hear the end of it.
Zucchini Winner
The Snarky Gardener with his award-winning zucchini

A little while back, the Snarky Girlfriend picked up this year’s Portage County Randolph Ohio fair book. She thought it would be cool for us to enter some items just for fun. She had some photos she wanted to enter, including one of my dog River. According to the rules, our entry forms had to be in by 8/5 even though the entries needed to be onsite when the fair started two weeks later. Telling the future is hard with garden produce, though I did have the option to enter and then just not have them. Going with a conservative first-timer approach, I perused the book, looking for viable vegetable categories.

Vegetables not quite ready for the big show:
1. Tomatoes and peppers – behind all year with cool wet weather
2. Corn – a few weeks off, not sure they would be ready by then
3. Beans – they wanted a quart of beans and I didn’t have that many.
4. Swiss chard – would rather eat it then enter it
5. Carrots – not enough and/or too small

Showable Vegetables:
1. Red potatoes – Red Chieftain
2. Golden potatoes – Yukon Golds
3. Kale – Red Russian
4. Turnips – Purple Top
5. Zucchini Under 10 inches- Sure Thing from Burpee

We dropped them off on Sunday 8/17, the day before the first day of the fair.  Right away I realized something was amiss.  People with kale and Swiss chard were using jars of water to keep them hydrated.  The fair book said to do this, but somehow I didn’t pick up on it (oh well – lesson learned).  On the plus side, we didn’t see any other turnip entries, so I knew I had a good chance of winning something in that category.  The turnips I entered were far from perfect, as they had pits and marks on them.  From the Internet articles I read after the fact, fair entered vegetables should all be little clones of each other and as close to retail sale quality as possible.

On Thursday (a long 4 days later), we attended the fair with some friends to see how I did (at least that’s how I saw it).  They seemed to be interested in other things first, like seeing the Snarky Girlfriend’s pictures (she won a second place ribbon for a flower picture), and eating fair food.   Finally we arrived at my vegetables and lo and behold, some had ribbons!  Two firsts and a second (yeah).  My red potatoes didn’t win (3rd place out of 3) as they were noticeable smaller and less uniform than the other competing entries.  But my Yukon Golds won second place (out of 4) – not bad at all.  My sad turnips garnered a first place ribbon as they had no competition.  But the topper was my zucchini which earned 1st place out of five.  Mine seemed to look the most like the ones you see at the grocery store.  Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to spend all the prize money on.  I wonder what I can purchase for $5.50?

wpid-wp-1408671286632.jpeg
Zucchini 10″ and Under – First Place out of 5
wpid-wp-1408671292232.jpeg
Root Vegetables – Turnips – 1st place out of 1
wpid-wp-1408671302675.jpeg
Golden Potatoes – 2nd Place out of 4

How to Succeed with Your First Garden

Want to garden but don’t know where to start?

The Snarky Gardener is here to help!

IMG266
A nice sunny spot with just a little afternoon shade and lots of leaf mulch

1.  Chose a nice sunny spot

Spend some time to observe your chosen spot.   You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred.  If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens.  Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.

IMG350
Next to the house, a small shade herb garden (mint, chives, etc)  which only receives a few hours of direct sunlight a day.

2.  Start small

Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out.  Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort.  Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.

IMG_20130712_172856[1]
Zucchini, corn, and beans (around the corn) – three of my favorites to eat
3.  Grow what you like to eat

Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes).  If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.

snowpeas
Easy peasy peas

4.  Grow easy stuff

Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin.  Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area.  For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble.  Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.

LawnSweeper20131109
The lawn sweeper makes gathering leaf mulch simple

5.  Mulch a bunch

Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants.  Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch.  You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will.  Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)

wpid-IMG_20131104_151114.jpg
Snarky Acres in the fall

6.  Visit often

Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else.  Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food.  Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do.  I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all.  Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).

7.  Learn about food seasons

IMG277
Turnips love the cold.
wpid-IMG_20131222_101858.jpg
Turnips at Christmas in Northeastern Ohio

Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather.  It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started).  Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times.  They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped.  Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.

Rivertime
The wild and allusive Toy Fox Terrier digging up my garden
IMG371
Groundhog making a run for it.

8.  Watch out for critters

If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal.  A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space.  There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some.  Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea.  Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.

wpid-IMG_20131222_215024.jpg
Cherry tomatoes inside the house – 12/22/2013

9.  Think outside the box

There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”.   Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc).  If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching.  And don’t be limited to your backyard.  Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).

Good luck and happy gardening!

Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.

Top Ten Best Vegetable Crops to Grow in Northeastern Ohio

The Snarky Gardener lists the best vegetables for Northeastern Ohio gardens

The list is ordered by asking, “If I was starting a new garden today, what would I grow to (almost) guarantee success?”  An important fact to remember is that success includes planting them at the right time of the year.  Some can withstand frosts and prefer spring or fall.  Others love the heat of July and August.  Also, some can handle a bit of shade where others must have at least 6 hours of sun a day to grow well.  All these variables are noted below.

1.  Tomatoes

IMG400
Mildly Snarky tomatoes – 7/4/2013

Tomatoes are a garden staple and usually a great success in any garden I’ve ever had.  They should be started inside from seed or purchased from a reliable grower.  Cherry tomatoes produce a lot and are less picky than other varieties.  Most tomato plants (except for Roma types) will keep growing until the first frost of the fall and will need support (technical term is indeterminate).  I’ve used 6 foot steel fencing for this purpose as you can also grow peas up them. Plant tomatoes deep so the first primary leaves are touching the soil as the buried stem will put out roots. Tomatoes do need full sun – the more, the merrier.

When to Plant Tomatoes in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed.

2.  Onions

IMG336
Green onions and garlic

By onions, I mean the bulbs you buy at the garden store and use as either green onions (tops and all) or later as full onions.  Onions (and other related plants – garlic, leaks, chives) are also mammal resistant, as deer and rabbits and groundhogs will usually leave them alone.

When to Plant Onion in Northeastern Ohio: These can first be planted in March or April and can be continuously planted through the fall.

3. Green Beans

tendergreenseeds

Easy to grow (once the spring frosts are over) and will help to improve the soil with their nitrogen fixing.  They also produce food quickly (under 60 days) so they can be planted later in the season (through the beginning of August here in Ohio).  Beans are a favorite food of groundhogs and rabbits though so you’ll need to fence them in.

When to Plant Green Beans in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed until August.

4.  Zucchini

IMG_20130712_172856[1]
Burpee’s Sure Thing Zucchini
Very prolific, zucchini are always welcome in my garden.  I tend to go with the all-female varieties – like Burpee’s Sure Thing.  Plant Zucchini in mounds with 2 or 3 seeds per mound.

When to Plant Zucchini in Northeastern Ohio: around the end of May after all danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed up.

5.  Potatoes

IMG359
Yukon Gold potatoes – 6/15/2013

Planted in spring, potatoes are really easy.  Just put in the ground and hill up dirt or mulch (leaves or straw) as the plant itself grows up.  Just wait for the plant to die off and then dig up your taters.  You will need store bought seed potatoes as grocery store potatoes are usually sprayed with chemicals that keep them from sprouting.

When to Plant Potatoes in Northeastern Ohio: as early as St. Patrick’s Day through May.

6.  Garlic

IMG234

Garlic, like potatoes, are super easy.    I did find out the hard way, you must split the bulbs up into cloves before planting.  But after they are in, you are good to go.  Garlic can be strategically planted to help deter critters (deer, rabbits, etc) from eating other crops.  Many animals do not like the smell of garlic.

When to Plant Garlic in Northeastern Ohio: mid October to be pulled in July or March/April (though this will grow smaller bulbs).

7.  Turnip Greens

IMG247

Easy to grow and very nutritious (a so-called “super food”), though somewhat bitter to eat sometimes (colcannon anyone?).  I’ve been going with Seven Top turnips over the last year or so, which are only grown for their greens.  The standard Purple Top White Globe turnip is also good for it’s greens, though you do have to worry about the roots getting tough and dried out as the summer temperatures spike.  Turnips prefer cool weather and can be sown in early spring or fall and will overwinter (and then promptly go to seed if not harvested in time).  They can also handle partial shade.

When to Plant Turnips in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.

8.  Carrots

Red Cored Chantenay Carrot

These are an issue for some gardens as rocky or clay soil can make for forked carrots.  Red Cored Chantenay is the 6 inch variety I grow that’s just perfect for Northeast Ohio’s clay soil.  They also overwinter well, coming back up for a special spring treat.  The tops are loved by fuzzy animals, both mammals and caterpillars.

When to Plant Carrots in Northeastern Ohio: April to August.

9.  Peas

IMG399
Freshly picked Sugar Snap peas – 7/2/2013

Think of peas like green beans (i.e. they fix nitrogen) for the spring and fall.  They can be planted as early as St. Patrick’s day in Northeastern Ohio.  And like green beans, they are loved by bunnies and groundhogs, so you’ll need to fence the peas in and the rodents out.  Also, they are tasty right off the vine, so there’s a chance they never make it back to the kitchen.

When to Plant Peas in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.

10.  Kale

Red Russian Kale - 1/29/2013

Kale is a relative to cabbage and broccoli but easier to grow.  Red Russian kale seems to be a winner as I know several other local gardeners who also raise it. You’ll need to keep an eye out for little green worms as they love kale.

When to Plant Kale in Northeastern Ohio: April through September.

11.   Spinach

Tyee (F1) (OG)
Johnny’s Selected Seeds – Tyee Spinach (F1) (OG)

I threw spinach in because it’s one of my favorite “super foods”.  I like it better than most other greens (including lettuce and kale).  But it’s a little hard to get started and will bolt (go to seed) once the weather gets hot.  Also, spinach can handle some shade.

When to Plant Spinach in Northeastern Ohio: April / May and again in August/September.