Alabama Garden Tour #2

Below you will see just a taste of the bountiful harvest from Garden Tour #2!  This garden is located in the sunny southern state of Alabama.  Take a look and be encouraged learning that even a small garden can produce many tasty vegetables.
Eggplant, Red Peppers, Tomatoes and Basil
I was encouraging a family member to start a garden at their home in Alabama.  However, there were several challenges.  First, the yard was very small and didn't have space for a typical raised bed.  Second,  they needed a bed that was easy to assemble and something that could be disassembled easily if they had any future relocation.   Then most important of all it needed to be attractive so that it was accepted by the homeowners association.   I found this incredible solution at Gardener's Supply. It's called the 4 in 1 Modular Raised Bed and can be arranged in 4 different ways to fit your space. 
This Modular raised bed fits into the landscaping.
I passed along my new found knowledge companion planting to help guide her selection of plants.  She choose (2) Eggplants, (2) Peppers, (2) Tomatoes, Basil & (1) Zucchini.   She also added a drip irrigation hose to water the plants.   The plants were planted at the end of May, because that is when she received the raised bed.  However, next year she can start planting earlier because of the longer growing season in Alabama.
Drip irrigation hose on far right
Below you can see a picture of the bed in August.

Happy Happy Tomatoes!
 She also experimented by growing a Zucchini and a Tomato plant in pots on her deck.  These plants received more sun in this location and their leaves started to show signs of distress.  I researched this problem and found out that plants can get sunburn!  They can get yellow spots on their leaves and fruit and then the plant tissue is affected. 
Zucchini plant in pot
To remedy this she moved the plants on the deck to an area that was in the sun during the morning and shaded in the afternoon.  In the raised bed she then added a lightweight white fabric covering over the Zucchini plant. 

Banana Tree
Banana Trees
This garden also has (4) Banana trees!  At first you may think that these plants could only grow in the south, but I have discovered that you can grow a  Dwarf Cavendish Banana Tree if you live in zones 4-11.  Our garden is in zone 6 so we would make the cut.  In order for it to work for us we would have to keep the plant in a large pot and then bring it into the house during the late fall & winter.  (For the fruit to ripen it needs a frost free environment). This variety is dwarf-sized maturing to 8-10 feet in height.

You too can make your garden fit the yard that you have whether it is small or large!  There are even solutions if you have no yard at all!  You can use a planter, an elevated bed, pots and you can even grow vegetables and fruit on your apartment balcony.   Get creative and enjoy!


Sunflowers & Winter Squash Harvest

This past week I was able to harvest a variety of vegetables from the garden.  Winter Squash, Green Beans, Cucumbers, Summer Squash, Watermelon, Onions, Carrots & for the first time Sunflowers (for their edible seeds of course)!
Green Beans, Spaghetti Squash, Burgess Squash, Cucumbers & Summer Squash
How can you tell when to harvest Winter Squash?  The best way to tell is to push your nail in the squash.  It won't leave a visible dent if it is ripe.  You may also be able to tell when the vine starts to die and turn brown drying out (keep in mind this may also indicate that your plant has a disease, is under stress or early frost has caused this.)  

Cut the squash from the vine and leave about 3 inches of the stem.   Winter Squash can last in storage anywhere from a month up to 6 months (depending on the variety). 

Typical Shelf Life of Winter Squash:
1-2 Months: Acorn, Delicata and Spaghetti Squash
2-3 Months: Buttercup/Butternut & Pumpkins
5-6 Months: Buttercup and Hubbard

How to harvest Winter Squash properly to last in storage: 
1. Place the unwashed squash in a spot that is warm and sunny for around a week to two weeks.  
(NOTE: Don't do step 1 if you have Acorn Squash- move it to a cool location right away.)
2. Store them in a room that is cool and dry with good air circulation.  (Above 50 degrees F)

Watermelon ready to eat!
We have been amazed at the Sunflowers growing in the beneficial beds in front of our garden.  This is the first year that we have grown Sunflowers and they are incredibly beautiful.  We grew 2 different types: Summertime Mix (more for color and cutting) and Russian Mammoth (for their edible seeds).  See pictures and tips on drying Sunflower seeds below

Sunflower Summertime Mix F1 
(Helianthus Annuus) 
- mixture of colors
- good for mass planting and cutting gardens
-pollen free hybrid collection
-height 4'-5

Summertime Mix- beautiful red/orange color and light yellow flowers
Russian Mammoth Sunflowers 
(Girasol Mammoth Ruso)  
-9'-12' tall with 10'-14' flowers
-easy to grow heirloom
-gigantic single flower heads on stalks
-dry to produce thin-shelled edible seeds

We still can't believe how tall these Sunflowers are!  They are truly Mammoth in size.

Process for drying Sunflowers (indoors):

1. Harvest when wilted &  some yellow petals have fallen off. 
2.  Leave 3 inches of stem when cutting off head of Sunflower. 
3. Secure string around stem of flower. 
4. Hang Sunflowers upside down in warm dry area with good ventilation.
5. Check drying Sunflowers each day & collect seeds which have fallen off. 
(Seeds are dry & ready when the green part of the Sunflower is dark brown & dry).
6. Using your hand rub the top of the flower head & the seeds will come out. 
7. Rinse with cold water and drain.  
8. Allow to air dry for a couple of days on a towel. 
(If desired you can put them on a cookie sheet & toast in oven).
9. Store or eat your Sunflower seeds!

Do not cut off Sunflower heads.  Instead put them in brown paper bags and tie a string around the bottom of the stem to close the bag.  Continue to check each day.  When ready
cut the Sunflower off stalk leaving 10-12" of stem.  Leave paper bag on flower until it is cut off so you don't loose any seeds.  Continue above steps 6 through 9.

Sunflowers hanging in our garage to dry

Sunflower on the end is about ready for us to remove seeds.
Its now August and the vegetables in the garden are slowing down their production.  The weather has been unusually cool during these summer months.  We have really enjoyed being in the garden this spring and summer.  Its going to be hard to transition to fall this year.  Soon it will be time to clean up the garden and plant a cover crop for the winter.  Then in late fall and early winter it will be time to plan again for next year. 

I will miss the Zinnia flower arrangements in my kitchen this fall!
More to come next week with Garden Tour #2!